Rule #2 for a happy life

Consider that you could be wrong

Karin Dames
Jul 22, 2019 · 5 min read

We all want to be happy. Aristotle said it thousands of years ago and it is as much true today as it was then. Everything we do is in order to feel better. Yet, I’m yet to meet someone who is truly happy.

Everyone has their own recipe for happiness, but on a deeper level we all yearn for the same things. We yearn to be accepted, loved, belong. We yearn to make a difference somehow in someone’s life.

In my first rule for happiness, I proposed the idea that in order to be happy, cultivate a habit of saying authentically “I am sorry” when you regret causing someone distress in some way. We really don’t empathize enough and saying I am sorry is a way to connect with someone you care and show your empathy.


The second rule for living a happy life, and probably the most impactful one by far, is simply considering that you could be wrong. There’s even a hashtag for it #Icouldbewrong that I like to use at times.

When you’re unhappy about something that occurred, it is the meaning you attached to it that makes you unhappy, not the event itself. You think that person didn’t respond because they don’t care about you, even though it might just have been that they were dealing with their own shit and they care very much. You think they’re angry with you because you said something wrong, but in fact you triggered something that happened earlier with what you said and they’re not angry with you but at their spouse at home. You think they are purposefully excluding you because they didn’t remember to include you in the meeting, when in fact it was an impromptu continuation of a previous meeting and they just didn’t think of including more people as a simple omission without any negative intent. You think they’re not interested in you because they didn’t react in the way you expected them to react, while in fact it’s because they didn’t even realize you were making a move because they were occupied with a problem in their head.

100% of disagreement is as a result of a misunderstanding.

The question is, do you bother to find out what the missing piece of the information puzzle is? Or do you accept failure and move on?

You think your boss is punishing you because he piles on more and more work, while in fact it is because you’re doing such a good job that he doesn’t want anyone else to do the important jobs but you. If you went to him directly to address your concern, you would find out the truth. But because you don’t, you make up a story in your mind that you hold as the absolute truth.

You think she shot you off when she declined to meet for a coffee, while in fact it had nothing to do with how much she liked you or not. In fact, it was maybe because she liked you too much and she knew you had a girlfriend so she didn’t want to get into an awkward situation. If you posed one simple question to find out what was wrong, you might have gotten a different answer than assuming she reacted the way she did because you believe girls don’t like you.

You think they don’t pick you for the job because you’re not good enough, while in fact they didn’t pick you because they thought you were too good for the role. If you were able to (and granted, speaking to a Human Resource person and getting an honest reply is probably harder than climbing Mount Everest) get honest feedback about why you were declined, or asked other people to have a look at your CV and give you a reason why you think you were declined, you might have gotten a very practical and different reason to what you believed in your mind to be true. Maybe you omitted some crucial information that you see as obvious but other people don’t. Maybe they didn’t even receive your application and it landed in the spam box. There are a million reasons why you weren’t picked. That doesn’t mean that no-one will pick you. It simply means you need more feedback.

Yes, of course it works the other way around too, but usually we’re not unhappy when we’re over-confident in our abilities and oblivious to how other’s people react to us.

The crux of the message is that more probable than not what you think is causing you unhappiness is usually not true. It is merely an old belief imprinted on you years ago that you’re still replaying in your head, acting out in real life.

So when you can consider, just for a moment, that everything that is causing you unhappiness is not true as an absolute fact, suddenly, you open yourself up to possibilities and hope and that in itself lifts you up just a little.

Filtering out the noise

We live life through our own biased filters. We look for evidence of what we already belief to strengthen those beliefs. But it’s just a belief, and a belief can be changed with enough practice.

So rather than getting stuck on finding evidence for the things causing you to be unhappy, try spending some time finding evidence of how it is not true.

When you think everyone is mean to you, start looking for kindness. Maybe it’s the person behind the till that gently smiles at you. Maybe it’s someone who stops for you to cross the road first. Maybe it’s someone who sends you a message just to find out how you are.

When you think artists don’t make money, start looking for successful artists and how they live. There are plenty of wealthy artists out there when only you bother looking. It’s not the fact that they’re an artist that makes it automatic that they much be poor, because if this was true there would be no wealthy artists.

Focus on what you would rather want, and find as much proof as possible that you could be wrong in your belief about the things that make you unhappy.

Open the communication channels

Consider that you could be wrong and open the communication channels to find out why. Go direct and ask rather than making up stories in your mind about why people did what they did.

It’s the assumptions you’re making in your head causing you unhappiness, not the truth behind it. But when you’re not willing to receive honest feedback, you’re not willing to get to the truth.

You’re the only one who can control your thoughts. You are not in control of what happens in the world around you, but you are in control of how you respond to it. And it is how you think about these events that generates a specific response. So when you are able to find alternatives, suddenly, you don’t feed the fear so much anymore and eventually, you’re able to see the sunshine behind the dark cloud that keeps you from being happy.

Karin Dames

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A cup of fresh ideas for old problems. Integrating technology, agile, gamification & lean to make workplaces more human, productive & fun.

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