In her aptly title book, Being Wrong, Kathleen Schulz describes just how difficult it is to be wrong:
A whole lot of us go through life assuming that we are basically right, basically all the time, about basically everything: about our political and intellectual convictions, our religious and moral beliefs, our assessment of other people, our memories, our grasp of facts. As absurd as it sounds when we stop to think about it, our steady state seems to be one of unconsciously assuming that we are very close to omniscient.
The Feeling of Being Right
Studies show we actually get a dopamine hit when we think we’re proven right. We can literally become addicted to the sensation of our rightness. “Your body does not discriminate against pleasure,” writes clinical psychologist Renee Carr. “It can become addicted to any activity or substance that consistently produces dopamine.”
This might explain why we spend time scrolling through and enjoying information and news links that prove—once again—how right we are. Wow, do we love that feeling. It also might explain why many have gone to their graves insisting they were right, even if it made them miserable in the process. Addictions work that way.
Hearing God’s Voice in an Argument
A friend of mine named T (seriously, that’s his name) says something really weird happened to him once, right after he got married. He heard God say something. Or he thinks he did, anyway. The content of the short message smacked him in the face, he told me. “So my wife and I were having a big argument about something, and I was totally right,” he said.
“You know how most of the time you might be right or you’re both kind of right, or something, but this time—totally seriously—I was absolutely right, and I knew it, and it was incredibly frustrating. I was so angry.
She was absolutely being wrong.” So what happened? “I went in our bedroom and I was seething. And that’s when something popped in my head, and it practically knocked me over. I honestly think it was something God was telling me directly. Totally stopped me in my tracks.” And what was that? “It was, ‘So, do you want me to judge her right now?’” Whoa.
The Thrill of Being Right
Why is it so fun to be right? As pleasures go, it is, after all, a second-order one at best. Unlike many of life’s other delights—chocolate, surfing, kissing—it does not enjoy any mainline access to our biochemistry: to our appetites, our adrenal glands, our limbic systems, our swoony hearts. And yet, the thrill of being right is undeniable, universal, and (perhaps most oddly) almost entirely undiscriminating.
We can’t enjoy kissing just anyone, but we can relish being right about almost anything. The stakes don’t seem to matter much; it’s more important to bet on the right foreign policy than the right racehorse, but we are perfectly capable of gloating over either one.
Nor does subject matter; we can be equally pleased about correctly identifying an orange-crowned warbler or the sexual orientation of our coworker. Stranger still, we can enjoy being right even about disagreeable things: the downturn in the stock market, say, or the demise of a friend’s relationship, or the fact that, at our spouse’s insistence, we just spent fifteen minutes schlepping our suitcase in exactly the opposite direction from our hotel.