A relationship?

Changing pace here entirely. This post is more of an open question based on an observation. Consequently, it’s not as long in the hopes that the responses will be more lengthy due to less fatigue after a shorter reading.

In my experience, I have seen something of a relationship between intelligence and general outlook on the world. I say “something of” because, as I’ll detail below, it has not (from my experience) been a direct relationship (where the inverse holds equally true).

First, what I’ve observed (with the caveat that, like most observations, what I outline is not hard-and-fast nor 100% the case every time):

In general, when I meet people and get to know them, the more intelligent the person, the more likely chance that  they are (or become with some frequency) at least mildly depressed. Sometimes this comes out as existential pinings, other times it’s outright withdrawal to the mind within. But, by and large, the intelligent people I’ve know almost always go through some periods of (sometimes very deep) depression.

While I don’t consider myself a rocket scientist, I think it’s fair to say that I am above-average intellectually. And I have definitely struggled with some rocky points in my life (no, this article isn’t a cry for help… no, I don’t think I’m projecting my own problems on other intelligent people).

This is not a two way street. By this I mean that the positive, chipper, happy people I’ve met are not universally stupid or even less intelligent. I’ve met some incredibly positive-minded people who’re sharper than sharp. Which brings me to the question I keep coming back to when I do meet intelligent people:

What makes them (or, us) depressed? What bogs them down when, as intelligent people, the world should be so brimming with possibilities? Is it better to live a dull-minded life – safe from the dizzying highs and lows of intellectual thinking? Is there something about intelligence that naturally evokes depression? Do less intelligent people feel equally depressed but, perhaps, do not articulate it as clearly or obviously?

I will leave it there but also add that I suspect that even the very chipper, intelligent people I have known probably have their own down times, of which I am just not aware.

Thoughts or perspective are welcome.


davidrsheehan is a contributing writer for projectgroupthink.wordpress.com. Get instant updates for this blog via Twitter: PGTblog. You can also tweet directly with him: davidrsheehan.



Filed under philosophy

9 responses to “A relationship?

  1. Soahki

    Interesting blog topic! I plan on discussing it throughout the day today, and am giving it a lot of thought. I especially liked this question: “Is it better to live a dull-minded life – safe from the dizzying highs and lows of intellectual thinking?” My answer, personally, would be no.

    I do think it’s a bit difficult to relate intelligence and depression, because intelligence is so difficult to define. I believe there may be different “types” of intelligence. However, I know you’re correlating intelligence with the ability and tendency to think deeply about things. In that case, I see your point. I believe that a person who tends to investigate and analyze the world more thoroughly than the average person, and who often delves beneath the surface of things, may sometimes find their discoveries depressing.

    But “unintelligent” people (though I balk at using that term in such a broad sense) often seem unhappy as well… not due to existential crises and societal angst… but because of domestic disputes, petty arguments… that kind of thing. It seems to me that the less intellectual people I have known are usually caught up in “he said- she said” drama, and are prone to aggressive posturing and to taking offense about everything. Sometimes, as you said, they seem lackluster because they don’t find anything in the world to be exciting or fascinating. They accept things at their surface value, so perhaps they don’t find much of interest to spark a bit of enthusiasm in their drab lives. These particular people may not be depressed, but I don’t believe that they are truly happy as I have known happiness.

    I would say that intelligent people seem to find more things of interest in the world around them. I would imagine that such people would be more likely to have hobbies and activities that they explore in their free time, rather than (or in addition to) hanging out at the bar or watching TV. This, hopefully, would increase one’s appreciation of life. I say that intelligent people may be more inclined to develop hobbies, because in order to develop a hobby, you have to possess a curious nature, an interest in exploring the unknown, and not be totally averse to reading, since developing a hobby usually involves some amount of research. I think that curiosity in particular is associated with intelligence in studies of human and animal behavior. Curious people are less likely to be bored, and thus might be more likely to achieve happiness? Or at the very least, some of that curiosity and interest in the world will allow deep thinking people to balance out the gloom that may arise from especially deep pondering in certain realms of thought.

    This is just my opinion, and is therefore completely biased. As for me personally, my mood tends to fluctuate between an extremely exuberant, lively emotional state brought on by various fascinations and a deep despair, frustration, and loathing which I feel for society at times. Others that I know equal my intellect but never achieve either intensity of highs or lows. I would say that it is my interest in things (all sorts of things) which “saves” me from feeling overly despondent or angsty for long periods of time.

    When I imagine a true genius, say perhaps a scientist, an inventor, or a novelist, I don’t imagine this person feeling bleak and depressed… I imagine that this person would be full of exuberance and vivacity and fascination for his/ her great work.

    As a side note, perhaps depression may arise when brilliant people never have the opportunity to perform their “great work”? I mean, intellectual people working ordinary jobs may tend to feel disgusted with life because their potential is not being fulfilled.

    Soahki is a contributing writer for projectgroupthink.wordpress.com. Get instant updates for this blog via Twitter: PGTblog.

  2. My views are in accordance with above^^

    The depression stems from the intellectuals inability to shift their focus away from critical, negative thoughts towards critical, positive thoughts. A frame of mind that deconstructs things/ideas or views them objectively from afar will struggle to attribute ‘value’ to its subjects.

    Aristotle claimed that the highest state of good was ‘philosophical contemplation’.

    Perhaps in our intellectual stupor we have forgotten how to enjoy things.

  3. A simple criterion for misery: that one be intelligent enough to perceive the disparity between the world as it exists, and the world as it could or ought to be.

    redpillneo is a contributing writer for projectgroupthink.wordpress.com. Get instant updates for this blog via Twitter: PGTblog.

  4. Po

    The thinker requires meaningful stimulation in order to be truly happy. The average non-thinking person is far less picky and can generally be content by simply being entertained and comfortable. The question then is what is preferable?

    Thinker: generally dissatisfied internally but occasionally reaches planes of advanced contemplation


    Non-Thinker: generally content internally as long as the external environment permits it

    From this it’s important to note that the non-thinker is generally MUCH more of a slave to the external world as they may be unable to conjure up solutions to life’s various problems. They are also altogether “trapped” in their current world-view/paradigm, while the intellectual can often times see beyond their own.

    Yes, this is ridiculously oversimplified, but it’s all of I could think of that hasn’t already been said at the moment. But just listen to us; we can be such elitist bastards sometimes.

  5. davidrsheehan

    I like what everyone added here and I’m glad it evoked such intriguing responses. One, more than any other, stands out in particular:

    None of you disagreed.

    Soahki came the closest with the idea that there are different types of intelligence (which I completely agree with, by the way – some guys we’d probably look at as engine/car-building monkeys can understand the physical workings and relationship of hundreds of pieces, parts, and struggling bits… if that doesn’t require intellect to solve when there’s a weird little noise I don’t think is normal, I don’t know what does.

    Back to my point: none of you disputed it. This confirms that my observation holds some validity (which is good, as it means I can accurately separate my observations from my personal emotional states); and also adds interesting perspective. We, as intellectual people see this happening but can, at best, just verbally shrug our shoulders at it. I do like Jake’s call to rise above and Brett’s longing for a shift toward something better, and Po’s spectrum (oversimplified but no less valid). But in the end, we all accept that we possess intelligence and with that comes some depressed times. Moreover, not only do we accept that for ourselves, but for our companion intellects in the world. Very interesting.

    Thanks for musings. I’ll add one more thing, a nifty quote my father has posted at his desk at work and has shared with me:

    “Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.” (variously attributed, but probably Eleanor Roosevelt)

  6. eelliso1

    I can honestly say that I enjoy the simplicity of “A simple criterion for misery: that one be intelligent enough to perceive the disparity between the world as it exists, and the world as it could or ought to be.”

    I read this blog this morning and on my, oh I would say 2 hour walk this evening, I found myself smiling. I say found myself because it occurs to me that for some reason each time I become aware of my own smile it shocks me.

    The shock itself generally causes my smile to fade…which in and of itself is curious to me. What makes the smile fade, realizing that I was not conscious enough to be completely aware of my own comfort and joy?

    Next time I sneak up on myself smiling, I will do my best to lift the corners of my lips and broaden that grin. Much of life is your outlook.

    I will say this however, perhaps the term intelligence covers too much for this blog, perhaps “Critical thinker,” should replace it.

    I find the less critical I am when it comes to my own happiness, (ie. why are you so happy, what has given you cause to be so jubilant?) the longer I maintain my happiness.

    • davidrsheehan

      Good points.

      Also, read an interesting study on smiles. research shows that when we’re happy, we tend to smile (duh, not interesting… but wait, there’s more!). Moreover, when we smile, we tend to be happier… apparently the physical movement of muscles releases hormones and so forth that make our mood and disposition a bit brighter.

      Make a conscious effort to smile and you might just find yourself happier… or thinking more.

  7. merkaba33

    I would have to say that the more intelligent you are the more difficult it is to be happy.

    Not impossible. Just more difficult. That’s because your requirements for happiness increase.

    You don’t just want “a” job, you want one that uses your skills, or stimulates your intellect, or provides you with some intrinsic value other than the monetary exchange.

    You don’t just want a mate, you want someone that challenges you, that questions you, that can discuss things that are interesting to you, etc.

    I use the job and mate as concrete examples. Paradigms, political and religious ideologies are more abstract examples of things people choose.

    These choices are harder if you’re actually thinking about them.

    It can be disconcerting when everyone else is making these decisions as if they were simple, and you realize they are not.

  8. davidrsheehan

    Good points. Intelligence allows for greater unstanding of expectations. And meeting higher expectations is harder.

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