Researchers Reveal Why Many Smart People Aren’t Happy

smart peopleBetter Life

There’s a scene from the movie “Annie Hall” where a couple was asked why they look so happy. The woman replied with a straight face that it’s because she’s shallow, empty, and doesn’t have anything interesting to say, while her man agreed that he’s the same way. But there’s a glaring truth to this scene even if it was meant to be a joke and a satire of life. Experts say that it is indeed hard for smart people to be truly happy.

There are dozens of studies proving the saying that “ignorance is bliss.” Professor Raj Raghunathan wrote the book “If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy?” and expounded on these findings. Here are some reasons why there are so many intelligent people can’t seem to find happiness.

Here Are 8 Reasons Why So Many Smart People Aren’t Happy

“Although happiness is a very important goal for most people, they also seem to devalue it as they go about their lives. That is, people seem to routinely sacrifice happiness for the sake of other goals.” – Dr. Raj Raghunathan

1.    Smart people tend to measure their achievements in life based on external yardsticks

Success is important for smart people and it’s how they measure happiness. Raghunathan said that smart people always have a gauge for what it means to live a successful life. They assess their competence and compare or judge their colleague’s success with external yardsticks.

  • For instance, intelligent professors value the ratings and feedback they get from students.
  • Some believe that if a large number of students passed their class, then they have competently delivered as a professor.
  • They also judge their capabilities based on their salary, educational background, and accomplishments or awards, even if these yardsticks are not relevant to their field of expertise.

Now, the problem is these gauges can never be enough because smart people will always aim higher or want to top their previous accomplishments. So, for instance, if a professor receives a raise, this will make him content and happy for a couple of months. Once he gets used to the idea that he’s earning pretty well, then he’ll seek for more. But what happens when he doesn’t get another raise?

Raghunathan stressed that if you attach your happiness to external yardsticks, you’ll soon realize that this cannot be sustainable. If your happiness comes from external sources, you’ll never be satisfied.

2.    Smart people tie their happiness to achieving goals

Intelligent people are goal-oriented. They always have this need to accomplish something because failure is not an option. But Raghunathan stated in his book that this constant need to “win” in life makes smart vulnerable to depression when things fall apart.

Reaching for goals is good because it can help you make positive decisions. Otherwise, you’ll just be wasting your life away when you’re not aiming for something. But then, if you are too goal-oriented, your focus will remain fixed on how to achieve these goals. So, when situations shift or change, you’ll struggle to handle anything that prevents you from completing these goals.

You can miss a lot of things happening in the background by remaining too engrossed in accomplishing something. If you’re that smart lawyer working too hard to become a partner at your firm, you could miss your children’s milestones or skip get-togethers with your family and friends because think you have to be in the office.

3.    Smart people worry about the results and not the process of doing something

Frustration easily happens for smart people. They immediately consider something a failure any time their plans go awry and then they worry about the results.

But worrying about the outcomes often prevents people from relishing the experience itself. When smart people become upset even by the smallest hitches or bumps, they rob themselves of enjoying the process of doing something. They look too far ahead and imagine what can be that they fail to focus on living in the moment.

  • Raghunathan said that children are the best examples of what it’s like to live in the moment or enjoy the process more than worry about the outcomes.
  • If you observe kids at play, they don’t care about anything else except having fun.
  • They don’t care how fancy their neighbor’s toys are compared to theirs because the most important thing to them is to play.

4.    Smart people overthink and over-analyze

People who are highly intelligent are driven to analyze, scrutinize, and reflect on everything. This need to find the answers or to carefully weigh the pros and cons of their predicament can be never-ending and exhausting.

Yale expert Dr. Susan Nolen-Hoeksema said in the book “Women Who Think Too Much” that overthinking can lead to depression. You’ll feel more down and in despair when your mind keeps recalling and rehashing thoughts that worry you.

Your mind has immense power over your feelings; something you play over and over in your head can have long-lasting effects. The expert suggested ruminating on positive thoughts instead of negative ones to protect yourself from falling into a depressive trap.

You also need to make constructive and concrete actions to your predicament, especially if this overthinking impacts your emotional well-being and your physical health. Over-analyzing might make smart people more mentally flexible; however, it will also get in your way of happiness if nothing gets resolved. You’ll start to lose sleep, or eat the wrong kinds of food, or lose the desire to get up from your bed and continue seeking after success.

  • For instance, your friends may be sympathetic to you in the beginning if you’ve been fixated about your breakup or a divorce.
  • But if this is the only thing you want to talk about, then you’ll likely annoy the people around you because you have yet to do something concrete to come to terms with your grief.
  • If people pull away from you, you’ll lose support and feel more sad and depressed.

Sometimes in life, it’s better to give your brain a rest and find distractions that will bring a positive boost to your feelings. Don’t let overthinking paralyze you.

5.    Smart people never settle

Complacency has no place in the life of smart people. “Whatever is enough” doesn’t work for them because they will always aspire for high standards and they will never settle. As such, smart people aren’t easy to please. They can be demanding towards other people as much as they are hard on themselves.

But people who don’t want to settle and who have high demands will be harder to satisfy. Now, compare this to the mindset of people with simple aspirations who accept things for what they are. These other people might not even seek to change the course of their life because they are content where they are. They are happy with whatever is enough because they don’t expect much.

This isn’t to say, however, that you must lower your bar so that you can be happy. But it’s also not realistic if you always aspire for something big or great and refuse to settle. Happiness will be elusive to you if you constantly view something as “not enough.”

6.    Smart people are rarely rational

For all their analyzing and thinking, smart people don’t exactly make rational choices, according to the American Psychological Association. Some people with high IQs have delusions of grandeur to where they rely solely on their intuitions when deciding to act.

The study highlighted that intellectuals cannot distance their emotions from their biases. They also cannot recognize that their capabilities of knowing too much may actually make them foolishly misguided. As a result, they make more mistakes with their choices than average people.

On the other hand, people with little biases can easily make unbiased judgments and choices in their lives, according to researchers at the University of Waterloo. Being intellectually humble makes them more accepting of the situation.

These are the types of people who can admit defeat, losses, and mistakes and still be able to wake up with a positive vibe every day. They may not be intellectuals but they are actually a lot wiser for acknowledging their limitations.

7.    Smart people experience more stress than average people

Intellectuals perceive simple problems differently; they tend to complicate the situation. Because they cannot help but over-analyze what they encounter, they start believing that they are in such a difficult spot. Furthermore, these feelings only make their life more stressful.

Intellectuals also often need to be in control of the situation because they believe that knowing more gives them power. But you cannot be truly happy when you’re trying to control everything. The more you resist the events in your life because they don’t fit your desired outcome, the more you’ll get angry, frustrated, and depressed.

Happiness becomes unattainable for smart people who can’t learn to appreciate the uncertainty. Try to recognize the important positive effects that unpredictability may bring to your life. For instance, it can give you the room to grow when you re-calibrate the way you approach your problems. Otherwise, your attempt to remain in control will cause stress to take over.

8.    Smart people are socially challenged to maintain warm and loving relationships

Researchers say that intellectuals feel more awkward and uncomfortable around people. For this reason, they limit their social contact and only associate with a chosen few. But being a loner may be isolating. Life can’t be fulfilling if you’d rather not communicate and share your experiences with someone else.

You can’t learn everything from the books you read, the classes and tests you ace, or the documentaries you watch. You also have to interact with people who can teach you a thing or two about living.

If you purposely avoid people because you think they can’t contribute to your enrichment, then seek out the ones in whose company you’d like to belong. For instance, if you’re a science buff, you can join hobby groups in your community. From there, you can meet people who love the same things as you. Try to build long-lasting relationships with them.

smart people

Final Thoughts On Why So Many Smart People Aren’t Happy

History has shown that people with brilliant minds are often plagued with psychological problems. Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, Charles Dickens, and Isaac Newton apparently experienced depression, panic attacks, and mental disorders despite their genius contributions to society.

The idea that happiness is rare and elusive for intelligent people is deeply-rooted, even in the works of ancient Greeks like Plato and Aristotle. Despite their open minds, these geniuses often struggle to embrace life with zest and an open heart.

Don’t let your smarts cause you to miss out on what it means to be truly happy.


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