Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.
Hemingway, author and journalist, Nobel laureate (1899-1961)
Hemingway, who took his own life in 1961, knew his share of both intelligent people and of
unhappiness. He lived through two world wars, the Great Depression, four wives and an
unknown number of failed romantic relationships, none of which would help him to
develop happiness if he knew how.
As Hemingway's quote was based on his life experience, I will base the following
speculation on both my personal and my professional experience as a sociologist. Not
enough study exists to quote on this subject.
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 among the lowliest, as may be attested
by a review of the membership lists of Mensa (the club for the top two percent on
Education systems in countries whose primary interest is in wealth accumulation
encourage heroes in movies, war and sports, but not in intellectual development. Super
intelligent people manage, but few reach the top of the business or social ladder.
Children develop along four streams: intellectual, physical, emotional (psychological) and
social. In classrooms, the smartest kids tend to be left out of more activities by other
children than they are included in. They are "odd," they are the geeks, they are social
outsiders. In other words, they do not develop socially as well as they may develop
intellectually or even physically where opportunities may exist for more progress.
Their emotional development, characterized by their ability to cope with risky or stressful
situations, especially over long periods of time, also lags behind that of the average
Adults tend to believe that intelligent kids can deal with anything because they are
intellectually superior. This inevitably includes situations where the intelligent kids have
neither knowledge nor skills to support their experience. They go through the tough times
alone. Adults don't understand that they need help and other kids don't want to associate
with kids the social leaders say are outsiders.
As a result we have many highly intelligent people whose social development progresses
much slower than that of most people and they have trouble coping with the stressors of
life that present themselves to everyone. It should come as no surprise that the vast
majority of prison inmates are socially and emotionally underdeveloped or maldeveloped
and a larger than average percentage of them are more intelligent than the norm.
Western society provides the ideal incubator for social misfits and those with emotional
coping problems. When it comes to happiness, people who are socially inept and who
have trouble coping emotionally with the exigencies of life would not be among those you
should expect to be happy.
This may be changing in the 21st century as the geeks gain recognition as people with
great potential, especially as people who might make their fortune in the world of high
technology. Geeks may be more socially accepted than in the past, but unless they
receive more assistance with their social and emotional development, most are destined
to be unhappy as they mature in the world of adults.
People with high intelligence, be they children or adults, still rank as social outsiders in
most situations, including their skills to be good mates and parents.
Moreover, they tend to see more of the tragedy in the communites and countries they live in, and in the world, than the average person whose primary source of news and
information is comedy shows on television. Tragedy is easier to find than compassion,
even though compassion likely exists in greater proportion in most communities.