Why Smarter People are Happier with Fewer Friends

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If you believe the class genius is a loner because he’s an arrogant know-it-all, or because he’s socially awkward, that’s not (necessarily) the case. Instead, it might be because he or she is honestly happier without the incessant inane prattling of mere mortals like you, or I.

New research published by the British Journal of Psychology in February, authored by evolutionary psychologists Norman Li from the Singapore Management University and Satoshi Kanazawa from the London School of Economics, suggests that smarter people may be happier going it alone.

According to them our roots in ancient hunter-gatherer society, in what they call”the savanna theory of happiness,”  explains our current perception of happiness. They use the theory to explain the outcome of a survey of 15,000 adults between the ages of 18 and 28.

Analyzing the statistics and demographics of the survey, they found that (unsurprisingly) people who lived in areas with more people per unit area were less happy. On the other hand, people with more social interactions (again no surprises here) said that they were happier.

Here’s the shocker though: smarter people were not as strongly affected by the above two factors. In fact, they might even be happier living in denser areas with less interaction with others.

“The effect of population density on life satisfaction was therefore more than twice as large for low-IQ individuals than for high-IQ individuals. More intelligent individuals were actually less satisfied with life if they socialized with their friends more frequently.”

Yes, you heard that right.

“Residents of rural areas and small towns are happier than those in suburbs, who in turn are happier than those in small central cities, who in turn are happier than those in large central cities,” they explain the obvious part 1 of their findings. “Our ancestors lived as hunter–gatherers in small bands of about 150 individuals. In such settings, having frequent contact with lifelong friends and allies was likely necessary for survival and reproduction for both sexes.”

So we are instinctively wired to work together and to thrive in relatively small communities. However, times have changed significantly since then… and according to the researchers, smarter people may have simply become more adapt at dealing with the new normal.

“More intelligent individuals, who possess higher levels of general intelligence and thus greater ability to solve evolutionarily novel problems, may face less difficulty in comprehending and dealing with evolutionarily novel entities and situations.”

Remember, this conclusion was reached by individuals who are probably above-average in terms of intelligence to begin with. It is also just a theory, and not a reason to avoid that guy who keeps dropping random factoids (he’s probably not really that bright anyway). Then there’s another possibility: maybe some people just can’t stand conversations that consistently revolve around celebrity worship?
Sources: The Washington Post, Live Science


This article (Why Smarter People are Happier with Fewer Friends) is a free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to the author(CoNN) and AnonHQ.com.

55 COMMENTS

  1. I can’t stand when people constantly praise celebrities. I’d rather talk about more pressing things than people who do not all use their money for good.

  2. Have met some people who feel complete within themselves, quiet and serene. They have a few close friends, a wider circle of acquaintances, and that’s ok. Often they feel great love for humanity, just don’t need to be popular. Is this a sign of higher intelligence? Most of these people prefer to be in the country in natural or wild settings, contrary to the article above, go figure. News @ 11…

    • I was thinking this too. How can you address someone’s intelligence (Im keeping in mind that this is a theory) based off their living arrangements? Happiness is what humanity strives for after all so therefore my line of thinking says that if someone is happy, really happy, then to me they are quite intelligent. They’ve figured out a way to achieve the most sought after thing in the world. Im keen to see what others think of this ☺

    • I believe you misunderstood the concept… It is the other way around. It does not mean, that all people who have less friends and prefer to be alone, are of higher intelligence. It is as if you thought, that if I say, that all thumbs are fingers, then all fingers are thumbs… So, just the fact, that someone is quiet and doesn’t socialize that much does not imply he is overly intelligent…

      • I have found that those whom are of above average intelligence, so to speak, are more content to be with themselves or others like them rather than the mass populace, who enjoy large gatherings of what I term “transient people”, they prefer small intimate gatherings of like minds. This creates a more pleasurable experience for the “more intelligent” person. However, the same is true for the less intelligent, they surround themselves with like minded people. The fact that most people are superficial and look at the surface means that group is more likely to find a great many similar to themselves.

  3. Isn’t it just all about finding “The Middle”?

    Why is everybody discussing about introvert/extrovert, happier/not happier, …?

    For me the best way to live is a balanced life, then everything is great 🙂

  4. I think current consciousness is a product of action (karma), rebirth and causality in similar to the Buddhist world view.

  5. Three years ago, I moved from a loud, and busy, city environment to a secluded home on the edge of the Okefenokee Swamp. Here, I am so isolated that a landline is not available, and my closest neighbor is 8 miles away. In the city, I was constantly interacting with friends, while here I rarely see any. Am I happier and more content? You bet; I greatly prefer the solitude and rarely find my own company disagreeable. I would recommend this lifestyle change to anyone.

  6. An interesting piece, but the article states a correlation between intelligence and IQ, where in reality Intelligence Quota is only a scale for a very specific type of intelligence. It’s disheartening how many “scientific” articles that are filled with untrue statemens.

    • I think everybody with average reading skills and intelligence is capable of understanding the concept. This is not a scientific paper, this is just an article reporting something. If you need to read precise scientific work, then you should probably get the source this article is drawing on…

    • And BTW, IQ doesn’t stand for Intelligence Quota, but for Intelligence Quotient… Two different things:
      As nouns the difference between quota and quotient is that quota is a proportional part or share; the share or proportion assigned to each in a division while quotient is (arithmetic) the number resulting from the division of one number by another. 😉

  7. I feel that Mensa level people are more selective about who they socialize with.. The brightest among us can’t relate to the kardashian mentality.. It isn’t a case of right or wrong.. It is very difficult to assimilate with the unfamiliar..
    It is funny that I have enjoyed friendship with few four percenters over the years..

    -average IQ loner that can’t tolerate the inane..

  8. Do you want to know if you are that person try the myers briggs personality test.

    Best test i ever took. This test will help you understand yourself and other.

  9. of course the smarter people are happier when they are alone, who wants to constantly listen to idiots talk to each other, that more intelllectual person is going to hate things that diminish or simply dont increase their intellect. read “freedom of choice by thomas j chalko”

    • Smart folks are always learning and can process useful and worthy ideas from the unlikeliest sources. You can learn from prattle. You can learn from six-year-olds. I don’t typically see the smarter people isolating themselves from opportunities to learn or shackle themselves into a dangerous loop with their own consciousness (intellectual incest, right?)–probably what makes them smart. HOWEVER, maybe none of the smart people are around for us to experience, so our ceiling is restricted at the top. In any case, a better operational definition of intelligence is probably in order. My observation is the people in charge of the meaning of intelligence aren’t the right people for the job. But, isn’t that always the way it is? You’re always the smartest one when you control the narrative. I’ve often wondered if intelligence separate from humility isn’t a contradiction that can’t be resolved. Anyway…

  10. people = x, drama = y
    if x = y then 2x = 2y and 3x = 3y …etc
    and a few real friends who you can count on seem better than a multitude of shallow acquaintances..i think its about ego..to be able to say i have 1000 friends
    would be more about projecting an image of popularity, than having close emotional bonds with others.

  11. At the ripe old age of 54 I still do not have a best friend forever. I find my own happiness horse riding 110% to work demonstrating spending time with my children and husband iam happy. I’ve had so called friends in my life running my husband down aw is he treating you well and all that crap if i were to ask her what is your view regarding dantes inferno or have you read that book on rubber statistics by that prof. they just do not gangla goweto or what their thought about the book logic i’m reading? Gangle goweto? Frustrating and time wasting ive done everything for them and friendship is not about getting anything back but if you keep providing not only money but entertainment as well! Well what can i say?

    • Yes, people often can’t understand why would anyone want to know how many watts are produced by the Sun every second and try to figure it out just by comparing the illuminance level of sunlit earth surface and comparing it with illuminance level provided by 100W bulb and then come to the result… Or thinking about how much would you contaminate Earths atmosphere, if you disperse all oil ever produced by humans into it… I find it difficult to resists these questions, that come to my mind every once and then and I am willing to use every resource I can find to figure out the answer… But on the other hand, I also find it difficult to small talk with other people… When you want to talk about something imaginary, people often look at you perplexed, because they are incapable of thinking just for the joy of thinking… They will rather talk about politics, diseases, pop stars, who got robbed, who got killed etc… Sad but true…:-)

  12. “It is also just a theory, and not a reason to avoid that guy who keeps dropping random factoids”

    …..I am that guy who drops random factoids…..

    THE MORE YOU KNOW!

  13. I have an IQ of 164 which puts me in top 1% of population. Talking to most people is the same as an average person talking to retarded. I am not happy btw, never was, never will be.

    • I have 2 friends with at IQ above 150 and they are totally normal, and smarter than anyone else, they just can glimse at a book page and then remember it, and they are good at math logics.

      Totally normal guys in all ways.

      You would never know if they had not told you haha

    • I have an IQ of 140, so I am well bellow you, but still well above average person, and talking to other people is not that difficult. It is just not that entertaining, as people are refusing to talk about imaginary things… But the reason I replied to your post is, that it is the EQ, that makes it difficult to communicate with other people. High IQ combined with high EQ makes it fun. High IQ combined with low EQ makes it a nightmare… That is probably your case… 🙂

  14. Your not smart just because you got a high IQ.

    IQ is outdated.

    IQ only show how good your brain is at math logics.

    Being smart have nothing to do with math/numbers/logics skills/way of thinking.

    Smart is a totally different skill, that comes from thinking outside the box and learning from your mistakes and other peoples mistakes.

    Leading to you being smarter than the average Joe Bob.

  15. I have actively sought to expand my friendships with larger and larger groups, because of the isolation I feel. I will admit, my intellect shapes my understanding of the what is. The world for me is cross sections of different buildings and places. I usually find a soldier in the room because I assess the tactical equivalent of a safe place in a room, and tend to gravitate towards it. Once a friend revealed to me the reason he would sit in such a location was PTSD, I immediately saw every reaction to groups as something similar for me. How hard is it to trust other people when you’re more adept at assessing lies and corruption? How much more difficult is it to shine a light in the darkness and to be more than what has been before us. I don’t care what my intelligence quotient is. As a human being, the greatest resource for me is not the internet at my fingertips, nor is it entertainment, or art or any of the sciences that have taught me about this world. For me the greatest resource is the lives of those that are doing things beyond theory and possibility. Where the one turns to the other. I will admit to political aspirations of sorts, but not of leadership or representation, but of understanding and equivalencies. If I can learn a single lesson from someone that may or may not possess my intelligence, isn’t it my responsibility to suss out something like that. To actually learn from what is, so it can turn into the “what-could-be”?

    Yes intelligent people seem miserable, as do those going through their wake up phase. Many of us turn to over-complications and conspiracies instead of hearts and minds and dreams and hopes.

    Maybe my idealism is naieve, but if I go down with my species than so be it. I will hurt during interactions, I will overwhelm my senses with other people, and I will find myself in the process and possibly provide some wisdom so someone else doesn’t have to re-learn what I’ve had to painfully learn in the first place.

    But how will I know if someone learned it without a sophisticated search program, for abstract concepts and ideas?

    Isn’t that what life is. Stumbling around understanding your world through experience as much as it is looking through a computer.

    Sure substance can get lost in interaction, but what about the substance you can’t read, the raised eyebrows and the actual person’s understanding of the truths and facts that have been presented?

    I challenge you wonderful intellectuals to form more friendships and to mentor those you find with potential so they are not lost. A few more shepherds that don’t rely on greed or arrogance, but fact and possibility might make all the difference in this world.

    Thank you for being shepherds of information, and for living your lives to the greatest of your ability. I know many of you cope with things you shouldn’t have to cope with, because you understand all too well the world around is bigger and smaller than most people realize.

    Maybe a little more idiocy from our intellectuals and a little more intellect from our idiots can save us before we run ourselves aground on this spaceship called Earth. These people are the in flight entertainment and most don’t realize every 9 hours and 42 minutes (ish) our ballistic trajectory has our earth move an entire sun. But I’d like to think if I told them, they’d hold onto that fact. Maybe someday when a decision comes down to an opinion or a fact, those that don’t know will make the ultimate sacrifice to their ego, and admit it, so that someone with the capacity for such a distinction can, as their friend, point them towards the better choice.

  16. Speaking as a typical smart person, I cringe when I see typo’s in published work. The word “adapt” should be adept in paragraph 9.

  17. I believe this article is true to an extent. I’m not anti social-I just don’t like other people’s opinions and what they talk about. I believe I’m more intelligent than some people and I don’t mind them, but for instance, if they are talking about celebrities and popularity then I would rather stay to myself.

    • And people often ask if I am depressed. I am happy with who I am and how my life is going. It’s just that I tend to seperate myself from other people, most of the time sub-consciously. I have friends but I never thought of having a close friendship with many people.

  18. When I was about 30 years of age I did the application test for Mensa, and passed. This was the first time in my life I really understood what makes me different than most, why I didn’t fit in with most. I used to score really high in stuff in schools that really interested me, but was lazy and average in things that didn’t interest me. Think “not studying for a year and preparing for the final exams a week before, just to get that average grade I needed to pass the year”. And still I lack motivation in anything that’s average. Then I tried for a couple of years to “help out” society with my intelligence. I discovered that mediocre minds don’t have any idea of the difference between them and highly intelligent people. They don’t know, so they don’t care. No mediocre mind is interested in intelligent people telling them what to do, even if that would improve their lives. Nowadays it seems to be fashion to think that everyone is equal, while in reality we are not all equal. Equal treatment, yes, but there are clear differences between average people and highly intelligent ones.

    I for one can see a beautiful world arise when the top 1% in intelligence would rule fairly over the masses, like gods with absolute power, simply because that would be better for the average peoples. Unfortunately mediocre people want to have proof beforehand, want an explanation that they would not understand in the first place. So, I have to settle for a life of feeling outcast from society, while at the same time I could improve society if they would simply listen to me and take my ideas seriously. Life really sucks when you can see how it should change, but don’t have the means, because democracy will cause the average people to have more power than is good for them. For an average mind it is generally impossible to understand the big difference between them and the higher intellectual mind. For the intellectual mind it is however very easy to understand the average mind.. to understand that the average mind is impossible to guide in any direction because average people refuse to have them told what to do, which in my opinion is the cause of the downfall of society as a whole.

    You may ask: “But if you’re so smart, can’t you figure out a way to tell the mediocre people in a way they understand why it is better to be ruled by smart people?” No, because they don’t know the extent of higher intelligence. They don’t trust that what I say to them is a better way. They will not follow blindly unless I can perform some kind of miracle, and even then, they will have their prejudice about how a god must be. It’s a lost cause. I live out my days in solitude, having fun with the gods, and hope I die before all turns to absolute chaos. Have a good day!

  19. While a couple of people pointed out the use of “adapt” instead of “adept”, I thought it was kind of the high-IQ readers not to point out the seven other (grammatical) errors in the article.

  20. “happier without the incessant inane prattling of mere mortals like you, or I” is what lower IQ people take as arrogance. Lower IQ people get sick of smart people picking up on all the inaccuracies in their conversations. Again, seen as arrogant

  21. Only in scarce micro-moments one gets brief sensations of (what is to believed to be) happiness. Trying to be happy all of the time will probably lead to suicide.

  22. I call myself a loner, love an empty calendar and days to myself. I have a sociable nature, make friends but can fall down in keeping them. My friends send 60+ Xmas cards, I send 16. I worked abroad with wonderful people, said goodbye, no addresses given.
    Internet has improved my nature.
    Still happy alone most days.

  23. There are many factors for this, one of which could just as well be the whole “taken as arrogant” thing. To my knowledge and experience, highly intelligent people are also highly insecure and highly selfconscious as well. In other words, these people know so much more than most people, just how little they know and when someone like that gets called “arrogant” by some ignorant who doesn’t even know the meaning of the word, it hurts also “above average”. High IQ merely means “high speed” and so, while most people won’t spend a ton of time with their extremely slow granny even if they really love her, which they do, so do highly intelligent people prefer to spend time on their own, NOT because they are arrogant or “can’t be seen with such ‘mortals’ “, but simply because it is exhausting to keep at some else’s pace that is so unnatural to you. Much like all people find “geniuses” to be exhausting, these “geniuses” also find you exhausting, that is, having to explain yourself of itself is exhausting, let alone having to do so at 10 times per argument. Even if such two geniuses meet one another, they will then exhaust each other and end up taking some distance from that as well, because as much as high IQ is revered, in most cases this IQ is higher than the physical body can deal with and so, even with someone at your own pace, you will eventually collapse. Just now I had a dear over, one of 2 maybe? and I think we were both happy when she had to take the flight back, because 5 days (her entire trip) with no sleep, tons of coffee, 3 packs of cigs a day and plenty of booze, all accompanying our brains , convoluted into basically every single topic that has ever existed, has left both of us with no vocal chords or even the energy to say a proper “good bye”. This is just one example of how high IQ can totally and will totally stay in your way of ever finding any peace of mind.

  24. I have a few people I am friends with. A couple work friends and a few family I care about. Almost everyone else can drop dead for all I care. Wouldn’t miss one of them.

  25. I believe that a lot of people, not only upper-intelligence-level people, are simply happier with less input from others. In my case (& my son & daughter), we don’t actively require people around us to be content. We’re not introverted, either. In fact, most would say we’re extroverts when they see us. But, we just feel more comfortable with our small circle of friends for everyday interactions. Nothing wrong with going to a gathering, etc…but it isn’t something we’d be super-excited about. Maybe it’s more about being the sort who’s “in their own head” a lot? Who knows…

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