Are smart people happy?

An interesting question came up in my English discussion today: Are intelligent people more likely to be satisfied with their lives? Or is ignorance truly bliss? I'm a firm believer that having brains can bring plenty of joy in life, but I decided to do some digging to see what other studies I could find.

Firstly, it's important to define what intelligence is. Merriam-Webster defines intelligence as "the ability to learn or understand or to deal with new or trying situations: the skilled use of reason. (2) : the ability to apply knowledge to manipulate one's environment or to think abstractly as measured by objective criteria." So a base understanding of basic facts is useful, but the ability to think critically (like in this class!) plays more importance in what makes intelligence. Applying thought and reason to certain situations can make a smart person. Obviously, there is a myriad of kinds of intelligence, such as social intelligence, but I'm mainly going to focus on "book" smarts and critical thinkers in relation to these studies.

According to Cristen Conger, a happiness correlation study at University Of Edinburgh showed that there was no distinct correlation between and intelligence and happiness. Smart people may be more able to connect things in the world, but they may also be inclined to watch the presidential debates and become depressed all over again. Also, happy people may have more motivation to read and think and question, rather than people who see no point of living, who would be more likely to just sit there and watch a bunch of Disney movies. Not that you can't learn a few valuable lessons from Disney movies.

Conger goes on to say that a majority of happiness (at least 50%) comes from genetics. If your parents saw the world through rose colored glasses, you are much more likely to do the same. Families with low-stress and who are more extroverted are, in general, happier. This could have something to do with nurture rather than nature, although scientists did find similar "happiness" genes in sets of twins.

Happiness and intelligence also is highly influenced by society. Our culture doesn't always necessarily reward the most intelligence of sorts, and they can be bound in jobs that feel monotonous and un-rewarding. According to Bill Allen, "Western society is not set up to nurture intelligent children and adults, the way it dotes over athletes and sports figures, especially the outstanding ones. While we have the odd notable personality such as Albert Einstein, we also have many extremely intelligent people working in occupations that are considered amongthe lowliest, as may be attested by a review of the membership lists of Mensa (the club for the top two percent on intelligence scales)." When there is no external reward for intelligent people, it may seem worthless to them to continue at all, not to mention with a positive attitude. Humans are such that we thrive off of positive re-enforcement. When the jocks get more praise than scholars, those who have been burying themselves in books  may be left feeling downtrodden and left out. However, in an environment where positive re-enforcement is given to those who study hard and think critically, those people may feel better about their lives.

article suggests that because many intelligent people do better in their work environment (depends on the job of course), they feel more of a reason to get up in the morning and put hard effort into their jobs. They're more motivated to work hard because they've already received the external positive re-enforcement that keeps them going. However, Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work, suggests that intelligence has little to do with office success. Instead,  "only 25 per cent of job success is predicted by intelligence. Seventy-five per cent is predicted by three characteristics related to happiness: optimism, a positive social support network and a positive response to stress." Thus, happiness can lead to intelligence, since genuinely happy people who have gotten good reviews at work, are more motivated to keep doing well. 

Of course, there is always the null hypothesis that intelligence has absolutely nothing to do with happiness. All the studies I've come across fail to completely reject such a hypothesis, they only bring to the table factors that may raise or lower happiness--intelligence only being one of them.


My personal opinion on this issue is that no matter how happy you are, you are going to have various trials and tribulations throughout your life that are going to cause to you problems. Someone could live a very happy life but experience a death in the family or sudden event that is bound to make them sad. No matter how happy you are you can't prevent certain things from happening that may make you sad. The one thing that i want to bring up here is do you think money causes happiness or contributes to it? Often enough when someone has money they can do things that allow them to be happy, but overall does physically having cash make someone happy? Happiness is also an emotion that is temporary. You may always be fat or strong but happy only at certain points and I'm curious why. It would be interesting if you did a follow up blog that detailed some of the questions i just asked.

Having read your post I'd be interested to see what definition of intelligence you refer to here. I think this clarification is crucial especially when you say "Thus, happiness can lead to intelligence, since genuinely happy people who have gotten good reviews at work, are more motivated to keep doing well. " Are you defining happiness as how well one does at school or work etc, if so then this quote makes sense but seems to contradict the rest of your post which speaks of intelligence as a factor independent of work/ school performance. I enjoyed your post, but and I think a working definition of intelligence consistent through out the post would make it stronger and clearer.

Personally I think that how intelligence affects happiness depends on how much an individual values other people's opinions on them, or how much of their self-worth comes from outside. That is,(assuming greater self-worth makes you more likely to happy) if a person is dependent on other people's opinions/ external queues for self-worth then a more intelligent/ talented person would be happier because they receive more external validation e.g. test scores, people recognising their talent, etc. But if a person's self worth is mainly internal then even if there exists a correlation between hapiness and intelligence, such a person will less affected by this phenominon.

Those are interesting questions that I didn't even think of before. I can see how having money might lead a person to happiness, but doesn't necessarily cause it. With money you can provide for your family and the joy of giving can certainly cause happiness. But I think the main root of happiness is positive interaction. Humans, by nature, are social creatures. If a rich person has all the material goods he could ever want yet no family or friends to share them with, he could easily end up getting depressed. Conversely, people who have next to nothing can be some of the happiest people because they have close ties with others. I agree that happiness is temporary but contentment is more permanent--meaning, your emotions slide every which way in the course of a day, but satisfaction/dissatisfaction with life is more constant.

This is a very interesting question and one that, obviously, has a very difficult answer. From my experience, I have seen very intelligent people who are not very happy and some rather dumb people living very happy lives. I think it has more to do with the environment that you grow up in and experience every day. There could also be a scenario where an extremely intelligent person can be surrounded by those who are not nearly as intelligent, and this could frustrate the intelligent person because no one else will be able to have an extended conversation with anyone. This could lead someone to seeing no joy in life if nobody else can think the same way that they do.

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