Ernest Hemingway wrote: "Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know".
If ignorance is bliss, does high intelligence equal misery? Popular opinion suggests so. The image of the tortured genius, the mad scientist or the lone artist plagued by existential angst has become a widely accepted caricature of the exceptionally talented: think Vincent Van Gogh, Isaac Newton or Kurt Cobain.
It is a paradox. Should the most successful not be well-armed to make choices that maximise life satisfaction?
There is a long-held belief that average people are happier than smart people. Society, by statistical necessity, needs to focus on the majority and is therefore built and designed for "the average". But with most of its resources and infrastructure concentrated on average or below-average people, little attention is paid to the minority: the exceptionally smart. Having a high IQ is an overall net benefit in life but being statistically rare is not without its drawbacks.
Welcome to the curse of high intelligence. Whether you fall asleep during lectures, constantly challenge your superiors or are accused of having an attention-deficit disorder, having a high IQ can at times be more of a curse than a blessing.
It is easy to see how someone might experience intelligence as a burden. The super-smart are more likely to be tormented by issues such as rogue biotechnology or ecological collapse than the average Joe or Jane.
While the vast majority is content with a place to call home and a family holiday every year, the intellectual elite are wrecked with despair because they alone understand the complexities of life.
British philosopher Bertrand Russell summed it up best: 'The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt'. Put simply, smart people are clever enough to know how much they don't know, while the less intelligent don't have the ability to recognise their lackings.
Here's how being smarter than the average can make your life harder.
They are the victims of over-analysis
High calibre people tend to over-think and continuously analyse the events of their lives, their surroundings and beyond. Things are never as black-and-white as they appear so they read between every line and word, which can be draining when their thoughts take them to undesirable, frustrating conclusions.
A high level of intelligence requires sharp observation and understanding of the world around you. Knowledge is power, but knowledge is also dangerous as you end up sweating the small stuff, particularly when you reflect on philosophical problems, global affairs and the eternal questions of life that have no answers.
Ignorance, on the other hand, is bliss. The less you understand, the more carefree and therefore happy you are.
They live life on their own terms and do not follow 'rules'
Intelligent people do not subscribe to mainstream ideas and popular opinions, or conform to societal norms and expectations. They question everything and do not bow blindly to conventional authority or prejudices.
The highly intellectual choose off-the-beaten, non-traditional paths that involve risk, innovation and creativity, and are typically the ones transforming society, advancing knowledge and technology, and re-inventing modern culture.
They tend to be individualistic by the standards of the larger society, often postponing starting a family or traditional "milestones" to attain their goals.
They design their lives in unique ways to free up headspace for important things. Richard Branson, Mark Zuckerberg and Barack Obama are among the highly successful individuals who maintain a minimalist closet and routinely wear the same thing. By sticking to a kind of uniform, they avoid decision fatigue and spend less energy on frivolous matters.
They embrace their eccentricities and choose to stand out from the crowd, regardless of the consequences. As Albert Einstein aptly said: "Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds".
They are overly goal-oriented
Gifted people tend to be goal-oriented, which makes them peculiarly vulnerable to tying their happiness to "winning" or achieving those goals: whether they are working on groundbreaking discoveries or on their health and personal development.
They are starkly aware of the direction their lives are headed in and feel that it should be different from everyone else's. If anything they do does not contribute to moulding a better version of themselves - personally or professionally - they see it as a disservice.
As a result, they are less likely to spend time socialising because they are focused on long-term objectives, with little room for distractions or time-wasters.
When things do not go according to their plan or vision, it can send them into a downward spiral. By contrast, people who are not as aspirational are more content with themselves, their lives and simple achievements.
They lack meaningful social connections
Highly intelligent people may be concerned that their perspectives of the world are not shared by those around them, leading them to feel misunderstood, underappreciated or lonely.
When your mind works at extreme speeds and deep complexity, not many people can follow you or grasp your views on everything spanning from philosophy to global affairs. Thanks to today's consumerist and materialist society, it's difficult enough to find someone who can hold a deep conversation.
They seek like-minded peers who display a level of worldly insight that matches theirs. And they are less likely to associate with the herd mentality: people who mindlessly follow the crowd and are unable to think for themselves.
They tend to be highly sensitive and aware of others' actions. Good at reading people, they easily pick up shortcomings, dishonest intentions and weaknesses of the mind. They do not suffer fools gladly; that is, they may not be patient or willing to spend time with those they believe to be of lesser ability or knowledge.
They find it difficult to fit in with age-peers. Look at those ultra-smart kids in schools and you will see how they try to tone down their "smartness" to fit in with the crowd.
They find it difficult to give and show love. With so much on their minds at any given time, they find it hard to truly sympathise with people or feel empathy.Their emotional intelligence and social skills may not be missing entirely but do need a lot of work (think Sheldon Cooper from Big Bang Theory).
While they crave human intimacy and good conversations like others, they are often happier alone.
They have high standards and refuse to settle
An intelligent mind cannot be easily pleased. They are rarely satisfied with mediocrity or whatever they have achieved in life because their high IQ gives them the power to imagine bigger and better things. They are cocksure of what they want and refuse to settle if they can do better, whether in regards to career, achievements, lifestyle or relationships.
They are demanding of themselves and others. They look at the world in an idealistic way and are unable to give up their impossibly high standards. When they find that reality is contrary to their expectations, they feel disappointed and frustrated.
They are their own harshest critics and not only in their successes and failures: their deep thinking nature minutely analyses their behaviour and actions and compares them against the highest standards.
Often, they manifest their fear of failure in the form of crippling perfectionism, which can result in missed deadlines, never being happy with their work, or failing to even start.
According to a study by Dr. Michael Freeman, a clinical professor at the University of California, San Francisco, 1 in 3 entrepreneurs lives with depression. The biggest problem? Expectations. The bigger the gap between where you are and your vision of where you should be, the higher the stress – coupled with the huge amount of anxiety generated by startups and the startup world.
They find reality (and normalcy) boring
The deepest and dreamiest never cease to seek something bigger, like the meaning of life and its complexities. Their restless mind and imagination seek more than the trivial, the mundane and the superficial; the small things are never quite enough.
The "nutty professor" stereotype has glorified the idea that highly intelligent types are too advanced for the basics, thus not very good at the practicalities of everyday life.
With their brilliant minds occupied with humanity's greatest problems, they may lack basic practical skills such as frying an egg. Those poor marks you would get in English? Your superior mind being held hostage by the boring and inferior.
Prioritising all their great ideas can be a big problem since they get bored easily. The moment a project stops stimulating their brain, they are done and ready to move on to the next challenge. This explains why they may fail to follow through with things, and why brilliant strategists fail to implement their ideas.
They are prone to stress and psychological issues
People with high IQ perceive simple everyday problems much more sharply. Being highly intelligent is associated with psychological and physiological 'overexcitabilities' which make an intelligent person ruminate more, triggering a physical stress response in the body and increasing the chance of chronic anxiety.
The highly intelligent, as touched on earlier, are also more prone to mental health disorders such as depression, social anxiety, ADHD and neurosis. Those who do not suffer from any mental disorders are still susceptible to so-called "existential depression" brought on by excessive thinking about life, death and the meaning of existence.
A broader and deeper capacity to comprehend their surroundings lead to unique intensities which can be both remarkable and crippling. The same heightened consciousness that inspire an intellectually gifted writer, poet or artist to create, can potentially drive that same individual into a deep depression.
The most successful, brilliant and creative individuals are typically the ones who have suffered the most in their lifetimes and probably still experience internal struggles to this day. Many have argued that these conditions are part of what fuels creativity or are the side effects of an exceptional mind. And that perhaps our greatest gifts are deeply intertwined with our greatest pain.
The author is a feminist lifestyle writer with a penchant for minimalism.