Smart != Happier

Melancholy (c. 1892) by Edvard Munch

Melancholy (c. 1892) by Edvard Munch

A definition of intelligence that a lot of psychologists agree on is:

Intelligence is a very general mental capability that, among other things, involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly and learn from experience. It is not merely book learning, a narrow academic skill, or test-taking smarts. Rather, it reflects a broader and deeper capability for comprehending our surroundings-“catching on,” “making sense” of things, or “figuring out” what to do […] Intelligence, so defined, can be measured, and intelligence tests measure it well.

Doesn't intelligence sound great? Isn't "catching on" and "making sense", and "figuring out" all what life is about?

So intelligent people must live happier lives.

If they encounter a problem, they can use their superior problem-solving ability to solve them. They should do better jobs at making plans, getting what they want, and learn from their mistakes and make fewer of them.

So are smarter people happier?

Many studies find that either it's no, or only a little bit.

So what's going on?

Generally, IQ can predict things like how well you do in school and what kind of job you get, but why can't it predict living a life you like?

All various tests of intelligence are well-defined problems. They can be difficult but they aren't mystical. You can write instructions for solving them, and have indisputable answers.

But well-defined problems aren't the only kind of problems.

"Should I go into tech or arts?", "Who do I spend my life with" and "What do I do when my parents get old" are not multiple choices questions. These are all important but poorly defined problems.

There is no good word for the "skill at solving poorly defined problems".

Insight, creativity, agency, self-knowledge are all part of it, but not all of it.

Wisdom comes closest but it suggest a certain grandeur, and it's not all about asking "how do you live a good life". There's also "how do I figure out what to do today" and "how to be a good friend".

To spot people who are good at solving poorly defined problems, look for people who feel good about their lives.

But it's not black and white. What makes me happy might make you miserable. What made you happy in 20s might not make you happy in your 30s.

Life isn't chess, and no one agrees on the rules. The pieces do whatever they want and the board covers the inside of your head and the whole globe.

Some of the smartest people in the world can be endowed with exceptional problem-solving abilities, yet they are unable to solve basic but poorly defined problems like being a good person and not making life-altering mistakes.

It's time to divide intelligence into well-defined problem-solving and poorly defined problem-solving.

It shows us that all of AI's progress has only been on defined problems.

It also reminds us to give respect where respect is due.

People who are good at solving well-defined problems are called "professors" and "doctors" and get paid money and praise. But people good at solving poorly defined problems don't get the same kind of treatment.

Your parents, grandparents, and people who's been on this Earth for decades longer than you know how to raise a good family who love one another, how to carry on through hardships and tragedies, and how to make good food.

If you don't value their ability in solving poorly defined problems, you'll never get more of it.

You won't seek out the people who have this ability and try to learn from them, nor will you listen to them when they have something important to say.

You'll spend your life trying to use intelligence when what you need is wisdom.

You'll realize that your endless efforts in trying to solve all the well-defined problems will not actually make your life better.

So listen to your parents for a while and you'll learn something.