What makes you sad the most

Why are smart people so often unhappy?

“It is better to be a dissatisfied person than a satisfied pig” - this is what the English philosopher Stuart Mills said. What that means? More or less it is said that people cannot be happy simply by chasing basic animal needs or sensual pleasures. And what distinguishes us from animals is spirit, free decision-making, talent and love. Of course, the difference to animals can be discussed (yes, the black-backed jackal loves and lives monogamous!) - but the fact is that humans cannot only find happiness through their minds. The more far-sighted we experience in life, the more reflective we judge actions and circumstances - the more likely states or behaviors of others make us unhappy. The more educated, richer, and more experienced we are, the more likely it is that we become significantly less satisfied with our lives.

Raj Raghunathan, Marketing Professor at the University of Texas, has written a book about the phenomenon. If You're So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy? is the name of his work and deals with the question of why many clever people know what can make them happy, but the implementation does not satisfy them.


Better a dissatisfied Socrates than a satisfied fool.


He gives the example of the need to be “the best” at something. Wanting to achieve paramount goals is an absolutely legitimate desire - the only question is how we and others rate the phenomenon. Is the best the one with the most expertise? The one who is the most socially acceptable? Or the one who ultimately gets the most approval from his environment?

If we observe all these components, we notice: it is damn difficult to judge, since the standards are always at least two-sided. This is different from mathematics: the more we include, the less clear our result can be. Ergo, we are actually desperate because we can never really see the condition as crystal clear. We draw our conclusions from this and therefore tend to use given standards for evaluating circumstances - the best is the one with the most awards. Or the one who gets paid the highest. At the same time, however, we know that there is more to it than that and that this adapted approach does not lead us to happiness - at least not in the long term.

If you get a big raise because you really are the horniest at the job, it will make you happy for the first few months. But let six months go by ... you will notice that you have got used to the circumstance. Your happiness is relative again, euphoria has long since vanished. To be happy again, your superiors would have to come back with more money. There you are again.


And if the fool or the pig thinks differently, it's because they only know one side of the matter. The other party, on the other hand, knows both sides.


Yeah well, uh. How do we escape it all? Maybe we need to listen a little more to what we are really good at. What gives us joy - and so much so that it is absolutely irrelevant whether we are the best at it? Because in this case, we tend to do the very things that fill us. If you pursue these things long and intensely enough, then it is very likely that you will catapult yourself into levels where the fame and money flow like water from the tap - to put it bluntly. At least that's the nicer variant than just pursuing something on principle and thinking that these are lifegoals.

Raj Raghunathan names three components that arise in this happiness fulfillment - control, belonging and freedom. And he adds a fourth afterwards: the worldview that we bring with us. "You actually perform better if you don't put yourself under the scarcity mindset, if you don't worry about the outcomes and enjoy the process of doing something, rather than the goal." then it makes us happier if we do it for movement per se. Not necessarily in order to inevitably lose weight. If we enjoy the moment of running, the steps on the asphalt and the stream of thoughts along the way, then we will want to run again and again - and getting fitter goes hand in hand. And Raghunathan adds: “To be happy is pretty simple at some level. It requires doing something that you find meaningful, that you can kind of get lost in on a daily basis. "

Here's what we can draw from this: Yes, it's a burden to be so damned smart. But if we bundle all of our cleverness for what really matters to us, even the most intelligent of us will find true happiness - and that sounds promising.


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Image source: Brooke Cagle via Unsplash under cc0 license