Many people believe that unintelligent people tend to be happier than others; as the popular saying goes, “ignorance is bliss. However, scientific research reveals that this is not really the case, but that happiness is usually associated with a higher IQ or IQ . However, as we shall see, this relationship is not direct.

In this article we will analyze the relationship between happiness and intelligence , mainly understood as IQ. With this objective in mind, we will first stop to define the constructs “intelligence” and “happiness”, which are confusing and ambiguous from a scientific and research point of view.

Defining intelligence

The American Psychological Association (Neisser et al., 1996) stated that everyone has a different conception of intelligence, although there are some common features among the definitions of expert psychologists in this field.

Intelligence could be described as a set of skills that allow us to learn from experience, understand complex ideas , reason, solve problems and adapt to the environment. It is not a unique or totally stable quality, but rather its value in a given individual depends on the traits that are measured and the moment in time.

A striking definition of intelligence is the operational one, according to which the most appropriate way to describe this construct is as “that which is measured by IQ tests” . These tests evaluate skills such as spatial reasoning or processing speed and give a numerical result with a mean of 100 and a standard deviation of 15.

However, this type of evidence tends to neglect other aspects of intelligence that many people, both experts and laymen, consider equally fundamental. In this sense, emotional, interpersonal and intrapersonal skills are particularly important and have a significant impact on happiness.

Happiness, well-being and quality of life

Happiness is extremely difficult to define, probably even more so than intelligence. There is not even agreement as to whether it is a global state or more of a one-time experience; it is possible that this is because the factors that determine personal satisfaction depend on each individual.

However, we can say that this term is associated with positive emotions, from satisfaction to intense joy , as well as with personal development. In the scientific context, the use of other more specific constructs is usually preferred in place of “happiness”. Among these alternative concepts, well-being and quality of life stand out.

The concept of well-being is particularly focused on physical and psychological health , although when this variable is defined in a technical context, a social dimension and another of personal development are usually included within the set of features that make it up.

Quality of life can be understood in an even broader way. In this case, additional facets include educational level, economic status, relationships in the home, and many other characteristics of the environment.

The relationship between intelligence and happiness

According to the analysis carried out by Ali’s team (2013) with a sample of 6870 people from England, people with a low or normal-low IQ (between 70 and 99) tend to be less happy than those whose intelligence is above average, i.e. 100.

These results are complemented by those obtained by Kern and Friedman (2008), who carried out a longitudinal study analysing about a thousand people from childhood. Their research found less happiness and social adjustment in adulthood in individuals who had obtained higher educational achievements in previous stages of life.

Veenhoven and Choi (2012) draw an interesting conclusion from their meta-analysis of the relationship between intelligence and happiness worldwide: a high national IQ is associated with higher satisfaction in people living in a given country. On the other hand, they do not find that intelligence influences happiness from an individual point of view.

In this sense, different authors deduce that people with a low IQ have a greater probability of being unhappy as a consequence of situations of socioeconomic disadvantage and not directly because of their level of intelligence. These conditions also lead to a decrease in average mental and physical health.

On the other hand, research such as that of Bai and Niazi (2014) or Aminpoor (2013) finds that emotional and interpersonal intelligence has a positive influence on life satisfaction. The skills that are included in these constructs, such as self-awareness and self-esteem, are strongly associated with what we qualify as “happiness”.

Bibliographic references:

  • Ali, A., Ambler, G., Strydom, A., Rai, D., Cooper, C., McManus, S., Weich, S., Meltzer, H., Dein, S. & Hassiotis, A. (2013). The relationship between happiness and intelligence quotient: the contribution of socio-economic and clinical factors. Psychological Medicine, 43(6): 1303-12.
  • Aminpoor, H. (2013). Relationship between social intelligence and happiness in Payame Noor University students. Annals of Biological Research, 4(5): 165-168.
  • Bai, N. & Niazi, S. M. (2014). The relationship between emotional intelligence and happiness in collegiate champions (Case study: Jiroft University). European Journal of Experimental Biology, 4(1): 587-590.
  • Kern, M. L. & Friedman, H. S. (2008). Early educational milestones as predictors of lifelong academic achievement, midlife adjustment, and longevity. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 30(4): 419-430.
  • Neisser, U., Boodoo, G., Bouchard, T. J., Boykin, A. W., Brody, N., Ceci, S. J., Halpern, D. F., Loehlin, J. C., Perloff, R., Sternberg, R. J. & Urbina, S. (1996). Intelligence: Knowns and unknowns. American Psychologist, 51(2): 77.
  • Veenhoven, R. & Choi, Y. (2012). Does intelligence boost happiness? Smartness of all pays more than being smarter than others. International Journal of Happiness and Development, 1(1): 5-27.