Are you happier when you spend less time with people and more time working toward some type of goal? According to a study on happiness that was recently published in the British Journal of Psychology, that certainly seems to be the case for people who are more intelligent.
From a survey of 15,000 American adults ages 18 to 28, the researchers focused on just two social components that have always influenced human happiness: population density and how often they socialize with others. Through their research, they found that the more densely populated participants’ living circumstances were, the less satisfied they were with their lives. And the more frequently that participants’ interacted with close friends, the happier they were reported to be.
When intelligence was brought into the picture, the researchers discovered that the results were quite different. According to the Washington Post’s report on the study, population density affected participants of average intelligence more than twice as much as those of higher intelligence. But what’s perhaps even more interesting is that those who were more intelligent also reported less overall life satisfaction when they spent more time socializing.
Now, clearly, this is all based on averages. There certainly are a lot of intelligent people who love spending more time socializing and average people who prefer to spend more of their time alone. But the general trend is that people of average intelligence tend to be happier when they frequently spend time with friends while intelligent people are happier when they do just the opposite. The question is, why?
Well, the way the human brain has (or actually hasn’t) evolved since our ancestral days up until now likely has a lot to do with explaining these findings. Back when our ancestors thrived in tribes of just about 150 or so on the African savanna, keeping close relationships was necessary for survival, which is why we’re such social creatures even today.
These days, we live our lives quite differently — we thrive in huge cities, we communicate often via technology, and we work in an information age where knowledge is embraced. Our evolving brains and bodies haven’t had enough time to catch up to this big lifestyle shift yet, but it seems as if those who are more intelligent appear to be able to adapt more effectively to modern life, meaning they’re not as influenced by their ancestral roots quite as much as the Average Joe.
If you think about it, the trend makes sense. Highly intelligent people likely feel more naturally inclined to put their brainpower to work by striving for bigger, long-term goals. And that of course means less time spent socializing. People of average intelligence on the other hand may enjoy spending more of their time socializing because they’re simply not as interested in pursuing the types of bigger goals that more intelligent people tend to pursue — like working toward a doctorate, writing a bestselling novel, coding an innovative new internet service, and so on.
The research findings are interesting, but this doesn’t this mean that those who identify themselves as intelligent members of society should hole themselves up in a cave and get to work. Most of us can probably agree that everyone needs to spend some amount of time nurturing their relationships to support their wellbeing in whichever way best suits them, regardless of how introverted/extroverted or average/intelligent they may naturally be.