Do you want to be happy or do you want to be right? You can’t always be both.

Do you want to be happy? Who doesn't? I bet you also like being right. Click through for a happiness tip most people won't tell you.
For the last three months, I’ve been engaged in a (quiet, polite) battle of wills.
It’s been me vs. parking lot ice, me vs. the building manager, me vs. sand + salt almost every day since the mercury dipped below 32 degrees.

I live in an adorable apartment, in an neighborhood worthy of a Nora Ephron movie. The rent on said apartment is $300 below market value. Why? Because the management is … spotty. At best.

For much of the winter, the back entrance to my apartment building and our parking lot have been caked with ice and packed snow. The path to my car was literally three inches of so-shiny-you-can-see-yourself-in-it ice for months.

This is, of course, Not Acceptable.

I tried to be sweet and subtle.
(Hey, Chris! I’m sure you hadn’t noticed because you don’t park back there, but the parking lot is pretty icy. I bet everyone would love it if you could toss some salt down.)

I tried to be direct.
(Hey, since it snowed I’m really having trouble getting in and out of the parking lot. Could you put some sand and salt down?)

I tried being legal-y.
(The parking lot is super slippery, Chris. It’s incredibly dangerous for all the tenants to be walking around on all that glare ice. If anyone falls the owners of the building are liable for all their medical bills. So.)

And do you know what happened? N-O-T-H-I-N-G.
Or rather, I was told that (by some miracle of physics) the salt he was buying simply wasn’t effective at melting that ice! Go figure!

So I did a little math.
Time spent walking gingerly and slowly because I’m afraid of the ice: a lot
Time spent trying to politely, diplomatically get someone to do something: a lot
Time spent complaining about parking lot to other tenants: at least 20 minutes

And do you know how much a bag of salt costs? $5.

And do you know how much I charge per hour? More than $5. So I bought some salt, threw it around the parking lot, stopped slipping all over and stopped thinking mean thoughts about my building manager.

And the thing is? I’m totally, 100% right. My building manager is legally required to remove the ice and snow from the property and provide us with a safe place to park our cars. I could have spent so much time being right. I could have emailed the owner of the building, emailed tenancy advocates, rallied the other tenants to complain.

But it was way easier and faster to just buy some ever-loving salt.

I would never, ever suggest that you accept injustices or slights as a matter of course. Or that you should roll over and accept abuses and allow people to take advantage of you.

But next time you get your proverbial undies in a bunch (which, if you’re me, happens like three times a day) it might be time to ask yourself

Do you want to be happy or do you want to be right? You can't always be both. Click To Tweet

If you dig a bit deeper, there might be a $5, I’ll-let-this-one-go solution that will lead you back to friendly neighbors and sure footing.

When have you chosen ‘happy’ over ‘right’? Was it hard?

P.S. A 4-step plan to feel better and You’re awesome. So then what? 

Photo by Pineapple Supply Co. on Unsplash

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  1. Jodie van de Wetering

    I've done exactly the same thing with a sweet little rental. In my case it was paying a water bill the friend I took over the lease from insisted I shouldn't. The argument was they couldn't legally charge us for water because the place wasn't water efficient – manky old drippy taps, no dual flush on the loo, that sort of thing. But it came to about $40 a quarter, and for the sake of a place with a garden, where I could have my cat inside, within walking distance to work AND a park which I think was actually Narnia, I could live with that.

    My family's full of people who'd hold out for the principle of the thing, right up to the point where the water got cut off or they pranged their car on the ice. I'm sure some people get a kick out of righteous indignation. 🙂

  2. Manisha

    Choosing the battles, that's how I see it. Getting to choose what I get all worked up about. Of course, I don't always remember this but sometimes I do and that makes it much easier to let it go.

  3. Heidi

    This is so spot on. I think too – when we are in that space – we almost call in the negative stuff too. My dad is a prime example. I've never met anyone who has worse luck at restaurants, cause all he does is focus on it. Thanks for the great post!

  4. Jenny O

    What I worry about, when a situation like this arises in an ongoing relationship (not necessarily a romantic relationship, but like your example with your building manager), is that going the $5 fix route sets a precedent in the other person's mind. "I don't need to bother with removing the ice, because look what happened when I ignored the complaints: the complainer fixed it herself and stopped bothering me". What's your feeling on that? I suppose you could follow up with a letter to the building manager's higher-up (with a copy of the receipt for the salt asking for reimbursement, if you're feeling cheeky!) but that defeats the time-saving purpose.

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      Good question, Jenny.

      In this specific situation (with my building) I pretty regularly ask things of them (put in a counter and lighting while I'm traveling, allow me to sublet) so I don't feel like I'm being cheated here.

      Also, within reason, I feel like you get what you pay for. If I was paying $1,100 a month for my two-bedroom, I'd be alllllll over reporting this. But I'm not 😉

      But to answer your question, I think it's a good idea to acknowledge to the person that you did something to fix the problem yourself while maintaining that Super Serious Eye Contact that sort of says "You're welcome. I covered your ass. That was a one-time thing." 😉

    • Rachel

      I love that $1,100 for a 2BR would be a line-crosser for you… in L.A. that would be sooo-o-o-o cheap!

      <3 Twin Cities

    • Stephanie Loudmouth

      Damn. Where do you live? Here in LA $1,100 would get you an okay 1-bedroom haha. Then again, we have no ice!

      And I think the point of this post is that you SHOULD ask for what you want/need, but when you don't get it, you should find a way to do it yourself. Reminds me of a quote I like (which, coincidentally, is read at AA meetings but I'm not in AA) 'grant me the courage to change the things I can, the serenity to accept the things I can't change, and the wisdom to know the difference' (something like that).

  5. Girliest Nerd

    I was in the Canadian military and had the phrase 'never pass a fault' drilled into my head. I think it applies here (as well as to many aspects of life). When you see something is wrong, take the initiative and fix it even if it's not necessarily in your purview.

    Pretty sure the definition of insanity is doing something repeatedly and expecting a different result 😉 So yeah, continuing to address this with someone who does nothing was always going to be pointless. It's definitely not worth having someone break a hip over. People like you are rare – most people are happy to pass on responsibility if they don't feel directly responsible.

  6. T-Unit

    Yes! Thank you, I wish everyone had this mentality.

  7. Caitlyn

    Usually I choose right over… happy. But when you put it that way, maybe it's time to reexamine some of my choices. You bring up a good point though – it's situations in which there is a $5 solution to the problem that this works. But moving forward, I will try harder to think outside the box and determine if there is an easier way than digging my heels in about being right.

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      It's a tough one, isn't it? I used to joke that righteous indignation was my favorite emotion and I am verrrrry frequently The Squeaky Wheel. But I've been trying to be better about letting the little things go or fixing them myself rather than getting really wound up. It's so much more relaxing!

  8. Michelle...

    I try to live by the following quote from William James (though I'm very much still a work in progress)

    "The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook"

  9. Pieliekamais

    Wow. "I could have spent so much time being right." That's me.
    I want to be happy. Thank you, Sarah!

  10. A Lady Reveals Nothing

    If I were you I would have written my next rent check out for $5.00 less and included a note: "I bought some sale for you so I'm reducing my rent this month by $5.00"
    Then you get to be right AND you get to be happy.

    (Also – I'm a landlord myself and that would not have irritated me in the least. I'd way more prefer to pay for a fix than actually fix it.)

  11. Kristine F.

    I've never liked the phrase "choose your battles", but this I can get behind because at least you're still winning half-way! I find myself in situations like this all the time where being right just isn't worth it. I'll try to use this tactic from now on 🙂

  12. Caitlin Liz

    Great reminder! There are so many times when I know I'm right and my passive-aggressiveness makes me so unhappy when I could just give up on the "principle of the matter" (really, that phrase is such B.S.) and live a lot less of my life as frustrated and sullen. Thanks for the post 🙂

  13. sogugu

    Time for me to grow up too; and learn to pick my battles. Although I wish my noisy neigbour wasn't quite as noisy.

  14. Amber

    This is one of my life mantras. I find that with my perfectionist tendencies I have a stubborn desire for things to be “right.” It has taken a few hard lessons for me to learn the wiser way of being happy over right.

  15. Linda

    Choose happy every time and you will be a happy person. This was not an easy lesson for me. I have spent the last 5 years dealing with being right and dealing with the cancer. I know now that the two are related. The stress of lawyers and financial cost, sleepless nights and time spent complaining are not worth the acknowledgment of being right. Maybe I wouldn’t have been able to avoid lawyers, but I could have avoided the constant indignation and complaining.

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