Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.
– Ernest 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 intelligence scales).
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 person.
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.
‘Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today’s Epidemic Social Problems,’ striving to make the difficult problems easier to understand so someone can change the system.
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