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Would You Rather be Right or Happy?

written by Phil Valentine and reposted from ccar.us blog.


When I started my recovery journey, AA defined me… Arrogantly Angry. I identified a couple other base emotions too, sometimes happy, sometimes sad, but mostly angry. I’d argue about anything. About any topic. Even when I didn’t know a damn thing about it. A fairly smart guy, I prided myself on being right.

One night, decades ago, I sat in an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and grumbled about something. A wise old-timer glanced over at me, caught my attention, leaned in and whispered,

“Would you rather be right, or happy?’

I heard what he said and I immediately thought to myself,

“Both! Damn it.”

I folded my arms and pouted.  I’m most happy when I’m right. But that’s not what the saying implies. It has a deeper meaning,

“Is this worth losing serenity over?”

Over 32 years of recovery, I can’t possibly recall how many times I’ve heard the right or happy question. Or how many times I’ve repeated it. I’ve progressed (but not perfected). I have achieved SOME emotional intelligence.

I no longer need to be right.  And even when I’m fairly sure I am correct, I’m perfectly at peace when you are wrong. (I crack myself up.)

So Phil, why this topic? Looking back over many years, I believe the need to be right fuels the demise of many would-be recovery coaches. I composed a brief assessment. Review the questions and consider each one.

  1. A person you are coaching practices a recovery process you think dodgy, doubtful and possibly dangerous, what’s your next move?

  2. Do you sometimes feel a need to win an argument with a recoveree?

  3. Someone resists your suggestion; how do you respond?

  4. Your co-worker talks about a political perspective you disagree with viscerally, what do you do?

  5. You scroll through social media until your blood pressure rises, then what?

How you respond indicates how much you desire to be right.  Today, I see so many people with a desperate need to be right. If you disagree with one of these people, you run the risk of verbal assault. Respect for one another dissipates daily. If you are wrong in another person’s eyes, you  are immediately dismissed, or worse, hated – a discouraging dynamic.

Recovery coaches, please stay focused on recovery. Promote health and well-being. Encourage others.

When your emotions shift away from compassion toward anger, do something different.  Stop scrolling through social media. Turn off the news.  Listen to music. Take a walk. Breathe. I’m confident you know many, many other techniques to calm your spirit.

If you’re coaching someone and negative feelings begin to simmer, manage your own stuff.  How? Ask a great question. Remain curious. And maybe, mutter some version of the Serenity Prayer.

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Would you rather be right, or happy?

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