Science

Science Says It’s Better to Be Right Than Happy

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Young couple having an argument with man talking

A New Zealand man was asked by scientists to agree with everything his wife said. But 12 days later, the man had to call off the experiment because 288 consecutive hours of extreme harmony was “proving so harmful to his mental health.” Also, probably, to his wife’s mental health, because having someone pretend to agree with you for twelve days sounds unbearable, though researchers seem less concerned with that.

The point of the experiment, besides to make everyone miserable, was to test whether the famous adage of couples counselors and folksy grandparents is true: Is it really better to be happy than to be right? The researchers, all professors and doctors from the University of Auckland, had noticed that “many of their patients were adding stress to their lives by insisting on being right, even when it worked against their well-being.” Maybe it would be better, they hypothesized, if everyone just got over themselves and agreed once and for all that Thai is always fine for dinner, Definitely, Maybe is a fantastic movie, and no thermostat should ever, ever be set above 72 degrees. (Or whatever. I can’t speak for everyone).

To find out, they found a couple willing to rate their quality of life on a scale of 1 to 10. They told the husband the purpose of the study, and instructed him to agree with his wife 100 percent of the time, no complaining, no arguing. The wife, who wasn’t given any info about the exercise, was just told to rate her general satisfaction. Unsurprisingly, things went south pretty fast.

According to the official report, published in the “lighthearted” holiday issue of BMJ, his quality-of-life scores plummeted, falling from 7 to 3 over the course of the experiment. Her scores rose initially — from 8 to 8.5, being agreed with is nice — but she quickly “became hostile” to the idea of recording scores at all. But the husband found that his heightened agreeableness “led to the wife becoming increasingly critical of what he did and said.” After 12 days, he sat her down with a cup of tea (British New Zealand people) and explained the experiment, reassuring her that he had only become a passive-aggressive robot for science.

Obviously a sample size of one can only tell us so much, but it’s probably safe to say that never getting to be right is detrimental to your happiness, and that will have to be enough for us. According to chief author Dr. Bruce Arroll, “we would be reluctant to do the definitive study because of the concern about divorce or homicide.” He’ll be here all week, folks. In the meantime, go have a fight about something.

Image via Veer

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