Intelligence

Smarter People Are Happier People

New study contradicts earlier findings of no correlation between intelligence and happiness

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HappyPeopleLunamarinaDreamstime
Lunamarina/Dreamstime

Ignorance (a low functioning intellect) may not be bliss, but neither is being really smart. Or at least that is what a lot of social pychological research has supposedly shown. For example, a 2012 article in the International Journal of Happiness and Development analyzed 23 studies and found no correlation between IQ and individual happiness. That article suggested, "It is commonly assumed that smart people cope better with life and will therefore be happier, especially in a modern meritocratic society." On the other hand, the researchers pointed to folk wisdom reflected in popular sayings, such as "From ignorance our comfort flows, only the wretched are the wise," and "In much wisdom is much vexation."

Now a new study in the journal Intelligence calls this conclusion into question by looking at verbal intelligence and reported happiness among Americans on the General Social Survey from 1972-2012. Verbal intelligence was measured using a wordsum vocabulary test. So what did they find? From the study:

[U]sing data from the General Social Study (GSS) from 1972-2012, we show that verbal IQ, which we proxy with a vocabulary test from the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS), is significantly correlated with higher levels of happiness for a large representative sample of Americans. This association is small, but positive and significant even after controlling for a large number of socio-economic characteristics and family background variables including father and mother's education and family income.

In addition, the researchers treat intelligence as a positional good that enhances a person's social status. So how does a person's intelligence relative to that of his peers affect his happiness? They report …

… we find evidence for a strong positional effect of verbal intelligence on happiness—within their reference group, people who have relative higher verbal intelligence are happier than their less intelligent counterparts. Our estimations predict that more than 40 percent of the most verbally intelligent people in a reference group based on age, gender and geographical location, will report themselves in the highest happiness category "very happy" compared to only 24 percent of those at the bottom of the IQ distribution, holding socio-economic background constant.

In other words, being smarter than those around you will likely contribute to your happiness. Or perhaps to your smugness. In any case, a confession: Before delving into this research literature it would never have occurred to me that smarter people might not in general be happier people. Fortunately, the new study confirms what I already believed.

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  1. “It is commonly assumed that smart people cope better with life and will therefore be happier, especially in a modern meritocratic society.”

    I think I see the problem.

    1. Its cute that Ron actually thinks any society let alone ours is a meritocracy.

      1. Well it depends on how you define “merit”

      2. That’s a quote from the article Ron is summarizing, not from Ron.

  2. If you think verbal IQ is some kind of ultimate measure of intelligence, I don’t think you have very much to be smug about.

    1. If you think there’s no tongue in cheek, it makes me wonder what cheeks you put your tongue in.

  3. So my continued use of the term “grinning like an idiot” has no basis in science?

    1. No. It still has basis in science. Read the study. It says

      we find evidence for a strong positional effect of verbal intelligence on happiness?within their reference group, people who have relative higher verbal intelligence are happier than their less intelligent counterparts.

      Having verbal intelligence is no guarantee against being an idiot.

      1. As succinctly demonstrated by most liberal arts faculty.

      2. I think it’s important to remember that intelligence isn’t just one thing. It’s pretty common for very smart people to be idiots in some ways. And even more common for very smart people to be very wrong about important things (from my perspective).

  4. So when your mommy reads to you when you’re little, you become a better adjusted adult. I would have never guessed that.

  5. It’s a good thing that characteristics like intelligence and happiness are easily measurable, otherwise people might mistake social science for bullshit.

    1. Isn’t it Hugh? And I would love to hear Ron explain why this means anything. Your intelligence whatever it is is kind of set. So, what difference does it make if it makes you more or less likely to be happy? it is not like you can change it.

      1. What difference do most scientific discoveries make? I don’t think that’s the right way to measure the significance of things.

        Of course, this isn’t really science and is probably full of all kinds of unfounded assumptions.

      2. I’ll guess that people who write lots of words with interesting typoes aren’t guaranteed to have a sense of humor.

  6. privilege.

  7. RE: Smarter People Are Happier People
    New study contradicts earlier findings of no correlation between intelligence and happiness

    I don’t know if this is true or not, but it has been my experience those people on the far right and far left are as happy as a snake that has been stepped on. Always angry, always clueless and always conducting in behavior like they wanted to get their ass kicked.

  8. People are dumb but it is a big mistake to think you are smarter than everyone else.

    1. I think it’s reasonable to think that you’re smarter than X percent of people or smarter and X number of people you meet day-to-day. The IQ difference between my hometown and the city I work in is something to marvel at. When working my hometown office, people are friendlier, better able to control their emotions and can much more easily understand the abstract concepts that I explain to them. On days when I work in my out-of-town office, I realize immediately that my clients in that town tend to be about fives times dumber than your average pile of dirt, prone to emotional outbursts and abstract concepts must be explained using crayons.

      1. I’m actually more often surprised at how smart people are that I meet than how stupid people are.

        Which bolsters my theory that people are mostly awesome taken one at a time and mostly shitty in large groups.

        1. “…people are mostly awesome taken one at a time and mostly shitty in large groups.”

          *reevaluates adult sex life*

    2. Than everyone else? Yeah, that’s almost certainly a mistake. But it definitely doesn’t take much to be smarter than a grand majority of people.

  9. “popular sayings, such as ‘From ignorance our comfort flows, only the wretched are the wise,’ and ‘In much wisdom is much vexation.'”

    Probably a shout-out to Ecclesiastes 1:18 – “For in much wisdom there is much sorrow; whoever increases knowledge increases grief.”

    I don’t think that ‘verbal IQ” is a good translation for “wisdom” or “knowledge.”

    (The commentary in my Catholic Bible on Ecclesiastes 1:18 says: “these terms refer not just to a store of knowledge or to psychological or emotional pain. Corporal punishment, sometimes quite harsh, was also employed frequently by parents and teachers.”)

    Don’t forget Thomas Gray’s Ode on a distant prospect of Eton College

    Ah happy hills, ah pleasing shade,
    Ah fields beloved in vain,
    Where once my careless childhood strayed,
    A stranger yet to pain!…

    What idle progeny succeed
    To chase the rolling circle’s speed,
    Or urge the flying ball?…

    Alas, regardless of their doom,
    The little victims play!
    No sense have they of ills to come,
    Nor care beyond today:
    Yet see how all around ’em wait
    The ministers of human fate,
    And black Misfortune’s baleful train!…

    Yet ah! why should they know their fate?
    Since sorrow never comes too late,
    And happiness too swiftly flies.
    Thought would destroy their paradise.
    No more; where ignorance is bliss,
    ‘Tis folly to be wise.

    1. In context, the suggestion is that the more you know, the more depressed you are.

      1. Now I’ve made myself all depressed.

        1. Meh. You only *think* you’re depressed.

  10. This study is bullshit because I’m miserable.

    1. This study is validated because Crusty is miserable.

  11. Smarter people tend to make better decisions, which tend to lead to better life outcomes which tend to influence one’s happiness. If studies say something about a negative correlation, the study is wrong. The theory that stupid people that fuck up their own lives would somehow come out happier on the other end is about illogical as can be.

  12. I question the degree to which the indicated vocabulary test actually measures intelligence.

    1. Case in point, Russell Brand.

  13. This is just going to make happy, smart people feel smugly superior and unhappy smart people feel shittier.

    Here’s my made up theory: intelligence and happiness are both things we can’t do too much about. Most people have an innate baseline level of happiness and intelligence, and those are hard to change.

  14. While I agree studying this and publishing the results were necessary, it was only necessary to dispel an existing belief which has no firm evidence: smart people aren’t happier.

    That assumption, which may still turn out correct depending upon how you define intelligence, was just that: an assumption. Since this assumption had been repeated constantly for decades people believed it, but real proof never existed.

    So enter this study where they smartly decide to study happines is relation to a single intelligence variable: verbal intelligence. I believe they picked this because psychology has understood for some time now that people who can more precisely and accurately explain their positions/feelings/whatever to others generally have better relationships.

    So whether this was a reason they did this I do not know, but due to this comparing happiness to verbal intelligence had the best chance to provide strong results which disproved (to some degree) previously held consensus.

  15. but neither is being really smart. Or at least that is what a lot of social pychological research has supposedly shown. For example, a 2012 article in the International Journal of Happiness and Development analyzed 23 studies and found no correlation between IQ and individual happiness.

    If you’re only *moderately* smart, you know that correlational studies on IQ are more about the vast bulk that the rare *really smart*.

  16. Our estimations predict that more than 40 percent of the most verbally intelligent people in a reference group based on age, gender and geographical location, will report themselves in the highest happiness category “very happy” compared to only 24 percent of those at the bottom of the IQ distribution

    Or, more verbal intelligence correlates with greater social intelligence, thereby more signaling of personal happiness to enhance social status.

    I am happy. I am successful. I am a winner. I am high status and desirable.

  17. No wonder democrats are so depressed and slinging snot.

  18. The definition of ignorance is not a low functioning intellect. That’s the definition of stupid. The definition of ignorance is “lack of knowledge or awareness”. It’s a state that can be chosen, whereas intelligence or stupidity is genetic. It’s possible, and even probably easy, to be intelligent and happy by choosing ignorance.

  19. You win some, you lose some. True whether you really are as intelligent as you think you are or whether feel powerful in the company of legions of other pathetic idiots.

  20. It’s good that “social intelligence”, “verbal intelligence”, and IQ are all very scientific and rigorous concepts, because otherwise social ‘science’ studies like this would be in trouble. Oh, wait, they’re not scientific or rigorous. I grow tired of people saying that IQ equals intelligence; we don’t even have a decent understanding of intelligence, let alone a way to measure it.

    Garbage in, garbage out.

    1. Actually, intelligence is a well defined concept in psychology. It’s just that social scientists and journalists often use it incorrectly.

  21. Smarter, more intelligent, high verbal IQ: all these mean completely different things.

  22. I’m disappointed that the “smug” link up there isn’t a link to any kind of YouTube clip from South Park’s smug episode.

  23. This makes too much sense, the study also found that spending more time socializing with friends is actually an indicator of higher intelligence.

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