Facts, Opinions & The Surprising Secret to a Happy Life

Opinions vs. Beliefs. With apologies to Stealers Wheel, this is how it can feel sometimes.

“Beliefs to the left of me
Opinions to the right
Here I am stuck in the middle     
So blue.”

I have many friends whose political leanings are well to the left of center.

Most of these folks are pro-choice supporters which essentially means they support the legalization of abortion. They do not view this as murder.

Many of these same people also oppose capital punishment which they view as cruel and unusual punishment – indeed, state-sanctioned murder.

I have many friends whose political leanings are well to the right of center.

Most of these folks support capital punishment which means they support the taking of the life of one who has taken the life of another. They do not view this as murder.

Many of these folks are pro-life supporters which essentially means they oppose the legalization of abortion which they view as cruel and unusual punishment – indeed, state-sanctioned murder.

Both sides are unyielding in their arguments. They haul out reams of data as “fact” to prove their side of the debate and believe with unshakeable conviction that they are right.

Convinced Your Opinion Is Fact

Of course, the challenge with being right is that means the other side must therefore be wrong.

And that challenge becomes somewhat frustrating when the fools on the other side believe, with equally unshakeable conviction, that THEY are right.

They all seem to have lost sight of one simple truth. They are both right and they are both wrong because there is no right and there is no wrong.

What there is, is a wide array of opinions and what many of us have conditioned ourselves to do is to convince ourselves that our own opinions aren’t really opinions but are, in fact, facts.

Facts Vs. Misinformation

The endless barrage of conflicting information that has been foisted upon us during the Covid-19 pandemic (is it really a pandemic or is it a hoax?) along with the never-ending and ultra-creative false conspiracy theories emanating from the world of politics (is that really Joe Biden in the White House or is it a body-double?) is further evidence that beliefs and opinions carry the day, and that “facts” no longer have sway.

Pick any contentious topic (abortion, capital punishment, global warming, gun control, nutrition, religion, politics, best pizza in town, dogs vs cats) and the same patterns apply. Proponents on either side arguing for the righteousness of their claim all the while convincing themselves that the facts they are offering as proof of their stance are the true facts as opposed to the fake facts presented by those on the other side.

The First Secret to a Happy Life

By default, for a fact to truly be a fact it must be irrefutable, and able to be agreed upon by all. Using this unofficial definition guides us to understand that there are indeed very few facts when compared to the countless opinions that prevail.

The ratio of facts to opinions is 1:1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,437. That’s true, look it up.

I have long believed that the first secret to a happy life is to accept that whatever we believe to be true, regardless of how deeply we are committed to that belief, is nothing more than our opinion. While it may be shared by many others, it remains our opinion and will be strongly opposed by those who think otherwise.

Definition of Fact vs. Opinion

The dictionary defines a belief as “an opinion.” It defines opinion as “a belief.”

Well that clears up any confusion, doesn’t it?

There is some truth to be found there, though. Opinions don’t have to be rooted in any kind of truth. As long as you belief it, it’s yours. We all have only a singular tool with which to make sense of the world. That tool is our perspective, the way our brain converts the information it receives (real or imagined) into our beliefs/opinion. And yet, we engage in deeply divisive arguments, fight bitter political campaigns, go to war with our enemies, and kill people all in the name of what we believe to be true, based on our own perspective. Too often without acknowledging.

that it’s possible to come to a different conclusion, because of differing perspective. In other words, we foolishly and naïvely believe that our opinions represent fact.

We have become so polarized that we seem to have lost any willingness to see the world through the eyes of another or to even entertain the possibility that an opposing viewpoint may have any merit at all.

The Second Secret to a Happy Life

Our politicians are the perfect example of this. Sadly, I have become so cynical of all politicians that I believe they no longer go to work with the intention of making the world a better place but instead plow all their energy into berating, belittling, criticizing, discrediting, rebuking, insulting, smearing, humiliating, shaming, slamming, condemning, disapproving, disparaging, complaining and generally not being nice to their political opponents, and all others, whose views differ from theirs.

This perhaps explains why so many of us view most of them with such disdain.

The second secret to a happy life is this: Lose the need to be right. Many of us are incapable of ignoring every opportunity to correct another, to one-up them and to show how smart we really are. The often-used reference to “the smartest guy in the room” is never intended as a compliment.

I recently read a news story of an incident in Toronto in which police were called to break up a fight between two males in a residence. The cause of the fight? They were having a discussion as to who is the greatest hockey player of all time. As their emotions heated up, their intelligence scaled down and the fight was on.

As I read the story, I was reminded of a wonderful quote attributed to Einstein: “The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its limits.”

I can’t think of too many things we can do in our own lives that will sabotage our happiness, alienate our relationships and accelerate our loneliness more than diligently developing an insatiable need to be right.

And that’s a fact, because I said it is.

Till we read again.

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