Happiness is overrated: It’s better to be right, study finds
It is better to be right than to be happy – at least for one husband on the cutting edge of science.
As part of an unusual experiment, the husband was instructed to “agree with his wife’s every opinion and request without complaint,” and to continue doing so “even if he believed the female participant was wrong,” according to a report on the research that was published Tuesday by the British Medical Journal.
The husband and wife were helping a trio of doctors test their theory that pride and stubbornness get in the way of good mental health. In their own medical practices in New Zealand, they had observed patients leading “unnecessarily stressful lives by wanting to be right rather than happy.” If these patients could just let go of the need to prove to others that they were right, would greater happiness be the result?
Enter the intrepid husband. Based on the assumption that men would rather be happy than be right, he was told to agree with his wife in all cases. However, based on the assumption that women would rather be right than be happy, the doctors decided not to tell the wife why her husband was suddenly so agreeable.
Both spouses were asked to rate their quality of life on a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 being the happiest) at the start of the experiment and again on Day 6. It’s not clear how long the experiment was intended to last, but it came to an abrupt halt on Day 12.
“By then the male participant found the female participant to be increasingly critical of everything he did,” the researchers reported. The husband couldn’t take it anymore, so he made his wife a cup of tea and told her what had been going on.
That led the researchers to terminate the study.
Over the 12 days of the experiment, the husband’s quality of life plummeted from a baseline score of 7 all the way down to 3. The wife started out at 8 and rose to 8.5 by Day 6. She had no desire to share her quality of life with the researchers on Day 12, according to the report.
Still, the team was able to draw some preliminary conclusions.
“It seems that being right, however, is a cause of happiness, and agreeing with what one disagrees with is a cause of unhappiness,” they wrote. They also noted that “the availability of unbridled power adversely affects the quality of life of those on the receiving end.”
The three doctors think they might be on to something, and they wrote that they would like to see the work continue: “More research is needed to see whether our results hold if it is the male who is always right.”
[Updated 10:30 a.m. PST, Dec. 18: The study was released as part of the journal’s annual Christmas issue, which features offbeat and humorous research on topics like James Bond’s drinking habits and whether redheads are more appealing to vampires. For those who were wondering, Science Now was well aware that this was not a typical medical research study.]