Would You Rather be Right or Happy?

In recent weeks Nola has been teaching me how to move on from conflict.  She is a pro, but do I have it mastered?  Not even close!  However, I do feel like my response to a recent event was a great first step to mastering this craft.

In my last post I mentioned my success leaving behind a bad experience I had.  Here’s what happened… On my way to the gym, I was trying to turn right at a red light. There was a lot of traffic that day, intensifying my impatience.  When I finally saw an opening, I quickly made my move.  As I began to hit the gas and inch forward, I turned my head to the right, only to see a guy lurch away from my car, trying to avoid being hit by ME!  After some nasty looks and a moment to register what had happened (and what could have happened,) I was a little rattled.

I started my class, hopeful that I could “work it off.”  But as I was doing my burpies and trying to ignore it ever happened, it still kept needling me.  Ignoring it wasn’t helping, so I hoped that processing it would help me move on.  First I was defensive:

Well, it’s obviously encouraged to turn right on red there… There is even a separate right lane to turn into… And besides, those people saw me there trying to turn right, so why couldn’t they have walked behind my car?  I mean, I always do that to be helpful when I see a car trying to turn… I never cross in front of a turning car unless I can be sure the driver sees that I’m there… Blah, blah, blah.

Once I blew through all the rationalizations justifying why I was right, I didn’t feel any better at all.

Then something happened that surprised me.  I shifted my thinking:

Well, yeah, okay, they did have the right to walk… They didn’t really do anything wrong, even if they should watch out for their own safety, too… In the end, I was wrong. I was a jerk.

Then something even more surprising happened. I took responsibility for my actions, and that made me feel a little better. 

Instead of punishing myself for a mistake, I searched for a message.  First, I had to admit that my impatience caused me to be careless.  I also had to acknowledge to myself that my anxiety stemmed from a conflict the day before. I was still off-kilter from the previous day’s problems and was allowing it to affect my attitude and my actions. Not so great at letting that conflict go, was I?  Then it hit me– this was a signal to simply slow down.  This near accident was my warning, and “slow down” became my mantra all day. If I didn’t keep saying it to myself, I might forget and stay crazed.

Guess what happened? The whole energy of my day shifted!

Once I took responsibility for my actions and chose to find a positive spin, I was able to completely let go of the negativity surrounding it.

Whether it’s a near accident, a poor decision, or even a blunder at work, these mistakes can sit with us for far too long if we don’t find a way to manage our responses. Why did this work for me this time?  At first I made excuses and accusations in an attempt to make myself feel better.  I felt a need to prove that I wasn’t wrong– that I wasn’t a bad person.  As one of my readers pointed out, shaking off conflict “is often hard because shaking it off might mean swallowing pride and that we didn’t ‘win’ – whatever that might mean.” How true.  Holding on to being right actually made me hold on to the guilt and negativity of the story.  The minute I made it okay to be at fault and find an opportunity to make a positive change, the problem dissolved right before my eyes, helping me move forward.

I know you’re like me in some way.  You may be a perfectionist, you may hate to be wrong, hate to lose, or hate to get in trouble.  Whatever it is that keeps you stuck in these moments, maybe the next time you can ask yourself…

Would you rather be right, or would you rather be happy?


15 thoughts on “Would You Rather be Right or Happy?

  1. Great insights, especially connecting one day’s awareness to the previous day’s difficulties. It’s so much easier to say, “It’s not my fault. I didn’t do it. They started it.”

  2. I just had a rough time in class when the professor talked about the mid-term writing assignment becuase I am impatient with myself. I want to write perfectly immediately. I want to get grade A in every course that I take. I have not allowed myself to take time to learn step by step and accept being where I am right now. Transferring from dentistry to literature is tough because my writing skills have become rusty in the past 4 years. Your sharing let me know that it is ok to let myself learn. You just made me smile a little. Thanks, Laura!

    1. I love your insights, Mandy! It’s so true. I get impatient with myself a lot. I wonder if the need to be perfect right away is one of the personality traits that attracted us to dentistry in the first place. I bet you’ll pick up with the writing skills very quickly!

      1. I am so happy that you can relate. You are quite right. I feel like many of my dental schoolmates are like this, always impatient to be perfect and excellent. Time to tune it back to moderate so I could prioritize my happiness and health over GPA.

        1. These reminders are always helpful. You know… they say that success always comes after happiness and not the other way around!

  3. 🙂 running a red light has a penalty of £1000 over the pond here, knocking someone over while you did it would see you in prison 😀 I am thinking the conflict here wasn’t really with the guy, but with your impatient self, good to own that and turn it around, (but the guy was still a jerk for walking in front of you! 😀 )

    1. Whoa!! I don’t even know what ticket fines are here… luckily! We definitely have some different driving norms over here. We had a visitor from the UK who thought you didn’t really need to stop at stop signs, but here you absolutely have to.. Anyway… I know that’s not the point of your comment. You’re right though… the conflict was with me and my impatient self. It usually is that way, isn’t it?

  4. Owning our actions is big in our house, although we each need frequent reminders. I don’t know if we will automatically chose that path instead of making excuses first for our actions. Human nature? And besides, owning my actions helps me feel more like a grown up.. 🙂 So then I treat myself to an ice cream…

    1. It’s great that you’re teaching that to your daughters. What a valuable tool. Yes, human nature. I usually find that when I want to be right when deep down I know I am wrong, I eventually come around. It’s never immediate though, and sometimes it just takes time. But I wonder if some people I know don’t ever try to see the other side. Hmm… ice cream, maybe that would teach them!

  5. I think being happy is more important than being right but I have a tendency to be stubborn about being acknowledged that I’m right when I know I’m right 😦 I know..it’s terrible.

    I’m glad you didn’t hit that person…but I can’t say I wouldn’t have walked in front of your car either. Be careful!

    1. I have to say that there’s a part of me that loves hearing that you wouldn’t have walked in front of a car not looking either!! 😉

      I feel the same way! I think it’s about being heard. Sometimes, I’d love just a response acknowledging my point of view even if the person doesn’t ultimately agree. I’m stubborn too! Ask my husband.

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