Happy vs. Right

A while back I posted a question to Facebook asking if people would rather be happy or right.  I posed it without context or explanation, just to see what the initial reaction of my friends would be.

The whole thing started with a discussion about religion, politics and conspiracy theories (what could go wrong?) with an old friend from school.  At some point in the discussion, where I was attempting to point out to him where he was factually, provably wrong about some point or another, I realized that it was just making him upset.  It wasn’t that I was being mean, like I said he’s a friend, I was trying to be as nice and respectful as possible.  No, the problem was that the things he was wrong about where something that made him happy, and by correcting him I was taking away that thing that made him happy.

This naturally set me on a path towards introspection.  Was it better to be happy or to be right?  If I believed something in error, but that belief made me happy, would I want to be corrected or left alone?  When I posed my question to Facebook, I hadn’t settled on an answer.  I didn’t get many answers, only 2 in fact, one was for happy one was for both.  Nobody said they would rather be right than happy.

After thinking about it some more, I came to the conclusion that I’d rather be right than happy.  Maybe it’s the scientist in me that craves knowledge for it’s own sake, maybe it’s the atheist in me that isn’t satisfied with blissful ignorance, likely it’s some combination of both and several other factors.  But neither of those is really a good reason for this choice, they’re certainly no better than reasons for going in the opposite direction.

The best reason I can come up with for this choice is this: Decisions made from knowledge are more likely to result in lasting happiness than decisions made from ignorance. That is, while being wrong might make me happy sometimes, it is only through lucky coincidences and, being in a precarious state from the start, it can’t be expected to last.  On the other hand, while being corrected might take away something that had previously made me happy, it gives me a better opportunity to find a more solid happiness in the future.

So when I am wrong about something, factually and provably wrong, please point it out to me.  If I complain then, heck, just point me back to this post.

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26 Responses to Happy vs. Right

  1. Trevor says:

    What were you factually disagreeing about? Atheists tend to believe those with religion to be ignorant, but I find that is not often the case. I.e., I doubt that you friend prefers happiness over truth. The two go hand-in-hand.

    • B.Hall says:

      I think that’s an oversimplification. While some probably do, not all Atheists believe religious followers to be ignorant. If anything, I see them as fearful. Fearful that their lives may not have meaning, and that their existence might be limited.

      I also find them arrogant, since their belief assumes a loving creator took the time to build each of them, uniquely, just to share them with the universe.

      It’s odd to me, that these otherwise intelligent people will believe words over facts because they’re too emotionally fragile to contemplate the (admittedly, less warm & fuzzy) alternative: that we might all be a crazy galactic accident, and that we’ll all die alone and be forgotten.

      But though it is a depressing alternative, I’d rather know the truth of existence than be happy with a lie.

  2. ethana2 says:

    I’m with you on this one. I’d rather be correct than, say, existentially satisfied or comforted or whatever; plus if I don’t have anything telling me I shouldn’t make myself happy, I think I can give it a pretty good shot.

  3. Everyone has some beliefs that can’t be proven “right.” Especially not using science, which is just a way to gather data on the physical world. It can’t prove that the world is a nice place and is getting better all the time, any more than it can prove that “the Tao that can be named is not the eternal Tao.”

    At some point you have to decide that you believe in something because it works for you, not because it’s “right.” If the world makes sense for you now that you’ve come out as gay, or become an atheist, or even installed Ubuntu, then anyone who tells you you shouldn’t be happy about that is just trying to troll.

    It’s a bad idea to have blind belief, but it’s just as bad to think that because you don’t believe something nobody should. Especially when it comes to matters of faith and personal identity. That’s fundamentalism, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s wearing a preacher’s robes or a lab coat. It negates everyone it excludes.

  4. Context matters a lot with this question. I agree that if it’s a matter of immediate gain of happiness I’d much rather the truth. But if the question were phrased “happy forever” or “know the truth forever” I’d have to lean to the side of happiness. Fortunately that’s not really how life works :)

    Another happy Atheist

  5. Orphen says:

    Neat! I actually had a similar conversation just recently.

    I agree with you — I’d rather be right than happy. Regarding blind faith (for anything): faith itself is not the malady — it’s the unwillingness to refine understanding that plagues many.

    Great post!

  6. nicolas says:

    Thanks for this interesting question that I noticed in the Ubuntu planet. I came to your blog to point exactly what Tachyon posted as a comment. So I will just say: This.

  7. Julien says:

    Actually I think the question is kind of moot. People always think they’re right, from their point of view. If they thought they were wrong they would stop believing in whatever thet believe in… The only real difference is that some people are willing to believe in something without knowing if it’s right or wrong (so, for them, it’s right until proven wrong), whereas some have to find some evidence before they truly believe in something (which still doesn’t make it absolutely right)…

    In conclusion, I’d say that it’s actually you who have to define both what’s true and what’s happiness. So you’ll end up being both happy and right as long as you live somewhere where you’re allowed to think by yourself and act the way you want.

  8. James Shorten says:

    In my experience being wrong about something might lead to some temporary happiness but in the end only leads to disappointment and unhappiness. The process of coming to a correct belief may be difficult and even painful but in the end (in my own experience) tends to lead to a lasting happiness. Ignorance may well be bliss but by its very nature is destined to be a temporary bliss.

    I will, however, never contest someones rights to believe something unless that belief causes them to do some harm to others.

  9. Flimm says:

    “Decisions made from knowledge are more likely to result in lasting happiness than decisions made from ignorance.”

    What if I told you that the reason you believe this statement is because it makes you feel happy, not because you know it to be true? There are many situations in which ignorance is bliss, even long-lasting bliss.

    What I’m trying to get at is: you’re actually choosing happiness over being right, since you only picked being right because it would make you happy. Long-term happiness > being right > short-term happiness.

    • Michael Hall says:

      This is true, I chose it because I believe it will make me happier. It is also true that I don’t have any way to actually know that it actually will make me happier. It’s simply my best rational prediction of the outcome of both options.

  10. Cla452 says:

    To be happy because you are right has a lot to do with being proud and I´m always searching inside of me my humble side. That been said, I rather be happy. And being happy is kinda relative, people feel happy for different reasons…I have learned to be happy when life points me the directions of the good will, and if that means learning I´m wrong about something, I will make all the efford to change myself. But that is my point of view, I can´t make other people see life as I do, so above all, I respect others with their minds. We can usually indentify pretty quickly when a person is open to see things with other perspectives. If they are open, I feel confortable to give advice, if they are not, it´s probably wise not to push.

  11. The answer to your question is 42.

  12. Rodney Dawes says:

    I would rather be happy than right. Not because I would prefer to be ignorant, but because I would prefer to learn. I am happy when someone corrects me, and gives me new evidence and knowledge. It means that thinking about something in the wrong way, can be put aside, and progress is made. Science is about seeking the truth, and not whether or not a specific hypothesis was right or wrong. Either way will only lead to new hypothoses to be proven or disproved, which lead to more new hypotheses.

  13. peitschie says:

    Just want to repeat what a few others have already said. The universe does not present enough absolutes that “right” is as concrete a concept as we like to pretend. So definitely, aim for truth (I agree with all your sentiments expressed)… just be open to the fact that you will *always* make assumptions about something, and don’t fall into the trap of believing you are without faith ;). Everyone believes something… even if it’s belief in science!

  14. Pingback: The Science of Atheism | Michael Hall's Blog

  15. Alan Berends says:

    “Without attempting to show that one position is more correct than the other, it can be shown that one position is more scientific than the other. Therefore I can reasonably claim that, as a scientist, I am not being hypocritical in rejecting an unscientific statement, while accepting a scientific one.”

    Your statement on Atheism says it all. Right or wrong don’t enter the equation, you would rather be more scientific. You chose the scientific answer knowing they are very likely to be proven wrong. And there is nothing wrong with you choosing to be happy.

  16. Michael Hall says:

    You chose the scientific answer knowing they are very likely to be proven wrong.

    I choose the scientific answer because it is the most likely to be right.

  17. Alan Berends says:

    Your faith is much stronger than mine. Scientific theories fail at more than a 90% rate. So your chance of being RIGHT is about 10% on average. Like I said, you’d rather be happy than right. That you cannot admit this failure of science seems rather odd. Again it seems you’d rather be happy than RIGHT.

    And according to your statement, “Without attempting to show that one position is more correct than the other, it can be shown that one position is more scientific than the other”, you chose scientific over right and wrong. Science makes you happy. Right or wrong is of little concern.

    There isn’t enough room to list all the failures of science so I won’t even try. Science repairs scientific theory because nobody else cares enough to try to fix such a broken system.

    The theory of evolution is a perfect example. Where scientific theory is supposed to be based on objective analysis, empirical and measurable evidence, evolutionary studies are too often subjective and have few quantifiable measurements that can be made. It is mostly subjective interpretation of fossils that are so riddled with holes that any connection to past human life forms is impossible. Gaping holes connected with only wild hyperbole trying to support a theory that must break other PROVEN scientific laws to exist. It is the only theory I know that can do this.

    Life only comes from life. In other words, chemicals could not fall together in a perfect accident to create life. I think they call this the Law of Biogenesis. When one understands this, we know which came first; the chicken or the egg.

    The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that deterioration is the rule not improvement. Over time, things will fall apart.

    So a scientific community that chooses to ignore the impossibilities like that leaves little that can be trusted as being right. If you have the rules, at least follow them consistently. Not willy-nilly ignore them when it is convenient.

    Did you see the latest “giant” fossils that were found. Kind of supports the Bible’s account of when giants roamed the earth. The circumference of the head looked to be 4 to 5 foot tall. I can’t wait for the scientists to pick a spot for them in our chain of evolution.

    Science is not about right and wrong, it’s about guessing. And they don’t do that very well either!!!

    Just admit you like being scientific and you’re happy with your faith in it. Faith and happiness is probably easier than being right and happy anyway.

    Don’t start actually investigating something like designed or an accident of nature. It might shake your whole foundation. You asked me how small of change would be necessary for me to believe evolution. I will ask you a like question; how many, how complex and how improbable would the changes have to be to believe they were designed and not possible by accidental mutation? Would the defiance of other laws of science be enough to change your mind? Are those laws wrong?

  18. Michael Hall says:

    Your faith is much stronger than mine. Scientific theories fail at more than a 90% rate.

    Show me something with a higher rate of success than science and I’ll gladly switch.

    That you cannot admit this failure of science seems rather odd.

    I’ll freely admit that science is very often wrong. Again, show me something that is wrong less often and I’ll gladly switch.

    The theory of evolution is a perfect example.

    I won’t re-hash a debate about evolution here. I closed the comments on my other post because it was going nowhere. Please be respectful and don’t try and start it up again here.

    • Alan Berends says:

      MH I’ll freely admit that science is very often wrong. Again, show me something that is wrong less often and I’ll gladly switch.

      The Bible. If you can’t show me a failure rate of 90% or better, I expect you to keep your word. Welcome Michael.

      You pick science over being right. You’d rather be happy than right. With so many failures, one might ask why someone doesn’t check the scientific process to see why it fails so often. While claiming to be the best alternative out there, I think their faith is misplaced. Perhaps too much subjectivity is being allowed?

      Whatever the case, if you truly want to be right, scientific finds should not be the basis for such truth. I think you need something a little more dependable. Or just admit that ignorance is bliss and you are happy that your faith in science someday might reward you with being RIGHT at least half of the time.

      “I won’t re-hash a debate about evolution here. I closed the comments on my other post because it was going nowhere. Please be respectful and don’t try and start it up again here.”

      Duly noted. Didn’t do it to offend you, sorry if it upset you.

      Have a good week Michael.

  19. Alan Berends says:


    Human origins are now in question. The latest discovery has some scientists very upset. It turns out they found the remains of oldest humans known and they are not in the proper lineage. The path to upright man is now broken down completely. Time to start over. It was inevitable, more than 95% of all scientific theories have failed. That’s more of a belief system than Christianity. Accident or designed? Do you ever give it a thought.

    • Michael Hall says:

      It’s certainly not time to start over. This discovery is akin to finding out that your great-great-great-grandmother was the sister of a British Lord. It’s an interesting fact for dinner-table conversation, but doesn’t get you any closer to the throne. It changes absolutely nothing about evolution theory, only the picture we have of our family tree at the furthest branches.

      • Alan Berends says:

        No, this is more like erasing most of the genetic links that “scientists” have constructed in their domains. Under the guise of being scientific, they have foisted this upon an unsuspecting public along with the idea that this is the best guess that they have. This is scientific theory, and they want us to believe that this somehow has the full force and support of the scientific powers which have put this theory equal to that of gravity, laws of thermodynamics, biology and all the others which have been tested and observed for centuries. Evolution has no test which can disprove it. That is why it continually exists as a loose-leaf theory. (Along with much of science).

        So why are the scientists so upset if this is meaningless? Because all those that haven’t thrown the chart to upright man will now be forced to do so. It is ridiculous that it even exists after all former discoveries proved it to be wrong. How scientific. How was matter created? You don’t know. How was life created? You don’t know!! How could that first life be born with the ability to multiply? You don’t know or we wouldn’t be here if they hadn’t? You DON’T Know. But since we are here, that proves it, right?

        It’s the best that science has to offer? They don’t know. There is no way to test the theory, it isn’t falsifiable. No evidence, no tests that can be validated. Carbon dating is but a theoretical measure of time that cannot be tested except for short term.

        Since you don’t know, why not try evaluating the world by my “Accident or Designed” in your spare time. Try going from cell splitting to two party copulation to reproduce life. Speech and hearing in the same range? Sight that is responsive to a certain band of frequencies without knowing those existed? How do these develop? Ears and eyes start forming from the brain end or did the orifices start first? Two of each with all the capabilities like wipers on the eyes, self-focus, light control, lubrication, and muscles to control the motion and the brain that controls all of the above.

        Just consider the possibilities, the impossibilities exist if you are willing to consider them. Our minds are made up, it won’t be easy for you to change. Question science like you do Christianity. No freebies, they must actually find support for their arguments outside of “we don’t know yet”. What single scientific “fact” prevents you from considering alternatives?

        Let’s not argue about it, that’s fruitless. I actually accept those parts of evolution that have been demonstrated to be true. But when someone doesn’t know, I usually like to go with that and wait for more proof. They don’t know. I guess I didn’t believe you would change your mind on this, but would accept that it does blow a few holes in the theory. It doesn’t matter.

        I’ve enjoyed discussing this with you but I think it’s time for you to take it from here. Nothing I say will convince you. Someday, maybe something unexplainable will happen in your life that will open the door just a crack. I’ve had a few but you have to discover your own.

        Have a good life Michael, I wish you and your family the best!


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