Permit yourself to slow down. Like OldPadawan, I would reference Sun-Tzu's arguments for not fighting until you know you can win. However, I take a different spin on it, based on how I approached life. I was someone who "had to be right," and it has taken a while to overcome that (and/or I'm still trying to overcome it, depending on who you talk to ;-) )
Please forgive this for being a little rambling. The whole idea could get boiled down into three concepts ("strive to not lose," "move to the better position," and "play the long game"), but it's not easy to guess how you would respond to each of them, so I've expounded a bit on each of them. It's a much easier topic to converse about, rather than using a StackExchange Q&A pattern.
The first key I have found is to decouple "me winning" from "you losing." In a combative situation, we have a tendency to try to make the other guy lose, and then we feel we win by default. Of course, as you have noticed, this has the result of you expending great effort to cause someone else to lose, and only then realizing that you got less out of your win than you put into the fight. Your real goal is to win at life (and no, I won't tell you how to win at life). Whether they win or lose can be rather unimportant.
Once you're comfortable with the idea of trying for "me winning" rather than trying for "you losing," the next step is more subtle. Instead of going for "me winning," go for "me not losing." At first pass, those seem the same, but then you start to consider the more nuanced sides of it. In a boxing fight, often one goes for "not losing" in the first few rounds because one feels they have the stamina to outlast their opponent, and then go for the "win" later.
The version I was taught in my martial arts was to "move to a more advantageous position." Rather than trying to win right away, merely move to a position where you can win with less effort later, using your opponent's own energy. It's not easy. In fact, I think it's the hardest thing I know of to do. But it's terribly useful.
Once you get used to it, you realize two things:
- You don't have to let go of any argument. If you're only trying to not lose, then you can let any number of arguments just sit there, until you decide that one of the arguments is important enough to go after and try to win.
- You can let go of any argument you please. If you ever decide that dropping an argument is winning for yourself, then just drop it! Let your opponent "win," because you won something bigger.
The secret to this approach is time. You don't have to commit to winning the argument right away. You can stand back and take your time to decide if this is an argument worth committing to.
One approach I have taken for this is to play devil's advocate for practice. I have found a few groups who are willing to entertain me playing the devil's advocate for positions that nobody else would ever touch with a 10 foot pole. Do it politely. Polite argument is a great skill to learn in general, but it's utterly essential when you're arguing why the Holocaust was a good thing (and the only reason you're arguing that was because someone was making the far more reasonable argument that the Holocaust was a very bad thing, and you took the opposing viewpoint). If you're arguing a position that you, yourself, don't even agree with, you better be DANG polite while you do so.
This is great practice for many reasons:
- You should lose the argument most of the time. When most people agree on a position (such as with any argument involving Nazis), there's usually a pretty good reason why everyone agrees on it, even if the particular person you're debating with don't have the skill to argue it. Since this isn't your personal pet topic to debate, you are in a position to practice letting the argument go, and trying for "happy."
- You are playing a long game, trying to be happy in the long run. My position as a devil's advocate depends heavily on my reputation for putting together well mannered arguments. When you're willing to argue the pros of slavery, racism, government surveillance, or any other one of a number of trigger issues for people, you have to develop a reputation for making your interaction worthwhile. This long game approach gives you many more opportunities to define a rich and robust definition of happiness. As an example, if someone puts together a particularly good argument, I typically take the time to thank them for their time and effort. If I personally learn something, I thank them for that. If they're having trouble poking holes in my argument, I'll hit for both sides, helping them out so that we can keep going. Whatever it takes to find that greater happiness that's bigger than the argument.
- It's very good practice at not losing. So often we strive so hard to "win" that we overcommit and put ourselves in a bad position. As a devil's advocate, arguing very tenuous positions, its far more important to have the skill to stay afloat. I find this very important for your particular question. When asked "would you rather be happy or right," this approach suggests a third option: being able to make that decision later. When you're being asked to take a side on whether it should be legal to abort babies inseminated with Hitler's frozen semen, it's really really nice not to have to truly pick between happy or right until you get to see how the first few back and forths go!
Over time, you will untrain that "pitbull" approach, but retain all the skills you need in case you ever really want to lock down on something. Then you become a happy pitbull. You become one of those pitbulls that people use for the argument that pitbulls are happy loving creatures who want nothing but to make their owners happy. Be that kind of pitbull.