There is a humorous saying that has been supposedly told by Fathers to their sons sometime before their sons get married. I am not sure if this is more a legend than fact, but the story goes that often a Father will pull his son aside and tell him, “Son, you have a choice to make in your marriage. You can either be right or be happy.”
Although this story is filled with many stereotypes of our culture, I think there is a deeper truth contained in it that goes beyond just marriage. Often, we think that the goal in life is to “have everything figured out” and to have the best solutions to all the complications of life. In this kind of thinking, we tend to value our ability to correctly analyze and dissect a situation. Then, having carefully diagnosed the problem, apply the rational solution. The problem is that this kind of thinking often does not make us happy.
I do not wish to indicate that analysis and other tools of the mind are to be completely rid of or that we need to embrace a kind of self-imposed ignorance. Rather, I have found in my own life that underneath the critiques and the ability to analyze is what I call a “Critical Spirit.” In my reading of the Philokalia (a collection of writings from Eastern Christianity), I was struck by an idea of Eastern Monasticism. Often throughout this collection, the Monks would describe the various evil spirits that would attack them in prayer and throughout their day. They recognized the work of the Devil by the fruits it produced; the disquiet in the soul, the agitations that would arise.
You may not believe in demons or the idea of supernatural, personal forces which seek to bring the ruin of human souls, but I bet you can accept the idea that criticisms, judgments, and other aspects over-analysis often lead to disquiet and inner turmoil. There are people with an intense angry and dislike for others, and often they seem to have an acute awareness of other’s faults. This critical spirit festers in the soul and robs us of enjoying the present moment.
So each of us has a choice. We can either be right, carefully diagnosing all the problems of the world and the people in it, or we can be happy. By this I mean that we start not from a place of criticism, but with an open heart which is willing to forgive and forget. Sure, there will be times when problems need to be addressed, but a spirit of openness and forgiveness allows us to engage these obstacles with serenity and love.