15.7 C
New York
Sunday, May 28, 2023

Buy now


Three ways smart people make themselves unhappy and unsuccessful


Intelligence helps you get ahead, but it can also trip you up in big ways, psychologists and researchers warn.

One of the best ways to know what secret anxieties plague people is to look at what they click on online. And as someone who writes for the internet for a living, I can tell you few topics drive more clicks than articles that promise to “make you smarter.” People really, really worry whether they’re intelligent enough to accomplish the things they want to accomplish.

If you want to be a theoretical physicist, that makes sense. Even Jeff Bezos claims to not be smart enough to cut it in physics (becoming one of the world’s richest people was his fall back plan). But if your aim in life is to be happy and successful in any other career than esoteric academia, then exceptional intelligence is far from the be all and end all. In fact, in plenty of instances, it can hold you back.

Intelligence guarantees neither happiness nor success

“In general … there is no correlation between general intelligence and life satisfaction at the individual level,” reports Harvard professor and happiness expert Arthur Brooks in a recent Atlantic column. Many of us have met tremendously gifted individuals–as well as individuals with remarkably successful careers–who are clearly miserable.

Intelligence can be useful for getting ahead, but as Brooks and others point out, not only does it not guarantee happiness, but it can also actively thwart it. If you see yourself as clever and aim to use your gifts to win money and adulation, you’re probably going to end up making yourself miserable instead. Those who look for affirmation outside themselves tend to go on chasing more and more of it indefinitely.

If intelligence doesn’t guarantee happiness, how about worldly success? IQ is useful for many careers, but as psychologist and author Alice Boyes explained recently in the Harvard Business Review, being exceptionally smart can actually bring struggles as well as advantages. Here are three of the most common ways it can trip you up.

  1. An excessive focus on intellect

Bill Gates, when asked what advice he would give his younger self, responded: “I thought if somebody had a high IQ, they could be good at everything. And that idea that you had to blend different skills together, that still surprises me. This notion that there was just this simple idea of smartness, and it could solve everything–I wish I had known better than to think that.”

According to Boyes, he’s not the only super smart person who focuses so much on IQ that they end up undervaluing the people, communication, and creative skills that almost always must be combined with intelligence to get ahead.

“Bright kids … grow up being told they’re smart,” writes Boyes. “It’s easy to understand why, as a result, they would continue to focus on their intellect as adults. But in most workplaces, you need more than raw intelligence to get ahead. And only focusing on your greatest strength, rather than also addressing your weaknesses, tends to be self-sabotaging.”

  1. Decreased resilience

Most of us have heard by now of Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck’s concept of the “growth mindset.” If you think ability is fixed, you tend not to push yourself as you fear being shown to be “not good enough.” If you think abilities grow with effort, you’re more willing to try and fail, which makes you more resilient and ultimately more likely to be successful.

Know who often has a fearful fixed mindset when it comes to intelligence? Smart people. “If a lot of your self-esteem rests on your intelligence, it can be very difficult to be in situations that reveal chinks in your armor,” explains Boyes. “Any situation that triggers feeling not-smart is experienced as highly threatening. The smart person may even seek to avoid those situations, which ultimately holds the person back.”

  1. Overthinking

Clear, strategic thinking is great for success. Analysis paralysis isn’t, and smart people often fall into the trap of overthinking things. Sometimes what you need isn’t more information or more head scratching, but instead to step away and give your brain time to unconsciously process. Other times the call is ultimately a matter of values or ethics. Still other problems might demand hands-on experimentation or the bravery to take a risk.

“Notice when thinking becomes an unhealthy obsession. Consider when strategies other than thinking are more likely to result in success,” Boyes advises those whose intelligence has paralyzed their decision making.

You can read much more about unhelpful patterns highly intelligent people often fall into in Boyes’s complete article. But the bottom line here is that, no matter what your late-night anxiety tells you, intelligence isn’t a straight, wide road to all the good things in life. It’s a nice tool to have, surely, but don’t get obsessed. Being smart has its downsides, and there is a lot more to success and happiness than your score on an IQ test.

Related Articles


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Stay Connected

- Advertisement -spot_img

Latest Articles