Since the earliest of times, scholars have been exploring the abstract concepts of intelligence and happiness. Even though the intrigue to unravel these concepts seems to have never diminished, there has not yet been a concrete description of both intelligence and happiness. 

Intelligence has been explained by multiple differing perspectives and happiness as a concept is still regarded as something that is indefinite. The intrigue increases to a large extent when attempts are made in trying to find out how these two abstract concepts may be related to each other.

Intelligence has always been associated with positive characteristics. An individual who is high on intelligence is regarded to be on a higher pedestal as compared to the ones who are supposedly lower on intelligence. Being high on intelligence, then, to an extent, gives an individual a certain superiority that becomes helpful in many acts of life. 

How much do these positive characteristics play a role in an individual’s happiness, is something that arouses curiosity. The answer to this may seem to be an obvious one, but it is not as simple as expected.

Even though there are multiple perspectives to explain intelligence, the most widely used definition has been proposed by the well-known scholar of intelligence, David Wechsler. Wechsler defines intelligence as the global capacity of the individual to act purposefully, think rationally, and deal effectively with the environment. According to this definition, intelligence can be broken down into three components – acting with a purpose, rationality, and dealing effectively with the environment. 

Acting with purpose suggests being goal oriented and driven. It depicts that the individual has certain goals in life and has some meaning in life. Having meaning in life includes positive affect as well as signs of positive mental health. This gives the impression of the individual experiencing more and more positive emotions such as happiness.

Likewise, dealing effectively with the environment indicates the characteristic of being adjustive and being socially and emotionally stable. Social and emotional stability involves having less negativity and more positive affect. It also indicates the individual to be less conflictual and being more harmonious. Again all this depicts positive mental health, and thus, more towards the direction of happiness.

From this perspective, being intelligent, which includes acting with purpose and dealing effectively with the environment, suggests being happy. However, the other component of intelligence, that is being rational, might be indicative of something else.

Being rational means being realistic; having a realistic orientation towards life. This realistic orientation may at times make it difficult for an individual to be happy. It might dissuade an individual from happiness.

Happiness, a number of times, stems from a belief that things are going fine, and that there is not much to worry about. Many a times, people indulge in acts that make them believe to be happy. They form positive illusions about themselves and their life. They see themselves in a highly positive manner, which may not always be a very accurate judgment. Such illusions cater to their self-esteem, resulting into an inflation of the self-esteem.

In this way, happiness, at times, can be said to be self-deceptive. Happiness, for some, then, becomes a way to just make oneself feel good, by forming positive illusions, irrespective of what may actually be going on. It just becomes a way to satisfy ones sense of being; ones sense of self. 

This may be beneficial, but not in the long run. In the long run, false judgment about the self and surroundings only lead to disappointment. The person, eventually, comes face-to-face with reality, but till then it becomes too late.

A realistic orientation towards life, a characteristic of being intelligent, may make an individual look beyond this self-deceptive nature of happiness. Being realistic will make the individual to be more critical about the surroundings and not take anything as a given. The individual will have more of a questioning attitude about life.

The individual will also more likely look at the deeper aspects of life rather than looking at the peripheral events; trying to look beyond the shallowness of materialistic demands. Instead of looking for immediate gratification, the individual will have more far-sightedness and will not be satisfied very easily.

Such an individual would also be more aware about the adversities of the current world. He/she will have a realization of the sufferings that many a people go through and will also have an insight about the varied deeper problems associated with human-kind. 

Having awareness about these aspects of life will not make it easy for an individual to be happy. It is because of this awareness that will enable the individual to look beyond self-deception and materialism. This, in turn, will make it unlikely for the individual to experience a high level of happiness. It will instead give rise to an inner discomfort and perhaps cynicism.

This aspect of intelligence can be seen similar to that of what is called depressive realism. People with mild-to-moderate depression have a very realistic perspective in the way they look at life. They are aware of their own limitations and do not have an overly positive impression about themselves. They have a more accurate judgment and are thus able to look beyond many of the positive illusions that are somewhat necessary for having a sense of happiness.

It could be possible that being highly rationalistic, and thus, being high on intelligence, leads to similar feelings of depressive realism. Being intelligent, in that way may not necessarily be a cause of happiness. So intelligent people even though having purpose and better adjusted, due to being rationalistic, may be somewhat unhappy. Perhaps they get better adjusted with their unhappiness.

A large number of researches also suggest that intelligence may not lead to happiness. These researches, in fact, show an inverse relationship between scores of IQ (intelligence quotient) and happiness. This means higher the intelligence of an individual the lesser he/she will be happy. Thus, high intelligence means being less happy, or simply being more sad. 

This, however, may not be the only relation that can be formed between intelligence and happiness. As mentioned above, intelligence has been explained by multiple perspectives. These perspectives may differ in how intelligence may be related to happiness. 

Wechsler’s perspective explicates intelligence to be about intellectual abilities and their role in day-to-day life. This perspective can be said to represent many of the conceptions that view intelligence to be a sum of a wide range of intellectual abilities. IQ is a measure of such an intelligence. 

But there are other perspectives that look at intelligence to be beyond intellectual abilities. For instance, the idea of emotional intelligence sees intelligence in terms of using ones emotions in an appropriate manner and being able to handle different situations effectively.

The originators of the concept of emotional intelligence, Peter Salovey and John Mayer define it as the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions. They subdivided emotional intelligence into five domains, which are - knowing one’s emotions, managing emotions, motivating oneself, recognizing emotions in others, and handling relationships.

Each of these domains of emotional intelligence reflects positive affect and directs an individual towards happiness. Knowing one’s emotions means an understanding on of oneself, realizing what one is exactly feeling, and an awareness of inner moods, intentions, motivations, temperaments, and desires. It is being very sure about what one is going through. Knowledge of one’s inner feelings makes an individual to be certain and have a sense of comfort with ones being.

Managing emotions means having the ability to regulate and channelize ones emotions, especially the negative emotions like anger. Being able to channelize negative feelings such as aggression puts the individual in a better state of mind, keeps him/her in a positive mood, and enables to lead a healthy life.

Motivating oneself becomes very important when going through low morale. It helps in boosting ones positive energy, developing self-confidence, and making one to be driven. 

Recognizing emotions in others gives an understanding of others feelings and actions. It is about being empathetic towards others and gives clarity about how to behave and how not to behave in different situations. It certainly helps in making interpersonal communication to be better.

Finally, handling relationships is about being able to resolve conflicts, harmony, and the ability to maintain and sustain relationships in a healthy and satisfying manner. It can be said to be being able to have a high relationship quality, which will in turn lead an individual to have a higher self-esteem and better emotional wellbeing.

Emotional intelligence depicts intelligence in a very different light, something that is not known to many. Each of its domains reflects a positive attitude and leads the individual towards better mental health. An individual being intelligent, in terms of emotional intelligence, then, is surely more likely to experience positive moods and feelings such as happiness.

Therefore, different perspectives of intelligence have different conceptions about its relation with happiness. This of course gives rise to a complex situation. Intelligence when viewed as a set of intellectual abilities leads to a mix up of positive and negative affect, with more of an inclination towards unhappiness. This is also corroborated by a large number of researches.

On the other hand, intelligence when viewed as an ability to use ones emotions in an appropriate manner and being competent in interpersonal communication, it only leads to positive affect and better mental health, which means a more likelihood of being happy.

This situation brings in a lot of uncertainty about the relation of intelligence with happiness. It gives a very unclear and indefinite picture about how intelligence can be associated with happiness. The only way to determine some certainty about how intelligence may be related to happiness is to first know what exactly is intelligence all about.

Saif Farooqi

A PhD in Psychology (from the University of Delhi). I have been blogging about psychological issues for more than ten years. I am extremely passionate about teaching psychology. I'm a writer, podcaster, and TEDx speaker. I also conduct workshops and awareness programs in schools and colleges. Currently, I'm also working as an Assistant Professor at the Department of Psychology, Faculty of Social Sciences, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, India


TF said...

Very interesting. Especially the part about "depressive realism". Didn't know that a mild form of depression can bring better self awareness.

Saif Farooqi said...

Thank you! Yes, even I found the concept of depressive realism to be quite interesting when I first got to know about it.
And it is perhaps that self-awareness that leads to an individual to be caught up into depression.

Tabitha L said...

Lovved reading this thank you

Saif Farooqi said...

Thank you, Tabitha!