Whether You Are Happy Or Not May Come Down to Whether You Accord It Greater Priority Over Competing Goals

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"Too Old to Rock and Roll and Too Young to Die" was a Jethro Tull song I liked while growing up. I liked the sentiment in the song: that one could be caught in limbo between two states through no real fault of one's own (the band was referring to mid-life, I think). A similar sentiment applies to the relationship between smartness and happiness: One could be caught in limbo between being smart enough to do well in life, but not smart enough to be happy. But, in this case, it could be argued that the fault does lie within oneself.

Are you someone who is too smart to be happy?

I know some people who are. They say things such as: "I really don't want to bother dressing up for the date-because the date better like me for who I am, not for how I look." Or, "My boss is a sucker for flattery, but it's below my dignity to flatter him, so I won't. I will just let my work speak for itself." And so on.

Well, guess what. These people are still single and they are not doing well at work. And, yes, they are growing progressively less happy.

Given that most people agree that happiness is their most important goal, then smart people should be good at being happy, too. But that's not the case; as it turns out, there is no correlation between smartness and happiness.

To the smart person: If you are so smart, why haven't you figured out how to be happy?

The smartest people are the ones who have figured out how to be happy. In fact, the happiest people I know may actually be the smartest ones I know. Even if you don't agree with me, check out the results from a few ongoing studies that my colleagues and I are conducting.

Here is what we found:

When we ask people to choose between two options-say, two types of jobs-one of which will clearly give greater happiness than the other, participants do not reliably choose the happiness-maximizing one.

Here's an example of another decision, one with which most of you can relate:

Scenario 1:

Imagine that you are at the salad bar at a restaurant that charges you by the pound-you fill up your plate with whatever you want and you pay $5.99 per pound. There are many things you can add to your salad, and you know that certain things (e.g., tofu) cost more than certain other things (e.g., chickpeas). Imagine that you actually don't care much for the things that cost more, and that you actually enjoy the things that cost less (i.e., you like chickpeas more than you like tofu).

What would you do?

-Option A: Add more tofu to your salad so that you get your money's worth

-Option B: Add more chickpeas to your dish so that you enhance your enjoyment of the salad

Scenario 2 (This one is likely closer to home for many of you):

Imagine that you are in a very satisfying romantic relationship with a wonderful partner. However, there is one area in which you want your partner to improve: you want her to lose weight. You give your partner good advice on how to lose weight, but she never follows your advice. This continues for several months. Then, one day, your partner comes home very excited and tells you that she has met a person who has motivated her to adopt a new lifestyle-a lifestyle that will change your partner in the very way that you desire. That is, your partner appears to have been convinced by another person to make the changes that you have been asking her to make.

What would you do?

-Option A: Point out (angrily) to your partner that the other person has not told you anything new

-Option B: Congratulate your partner for having figured out how to achieve her goal

Which options did you choose in these examples?

Across both tasks, if you chose Option A, then you likely have less "happy smarts" than someone who chose Option B. Why? Those who chose Option B have the clarity to make happiness their priority. Value for money (in Scenario 1) and ego (in Scenario 2) both come second to their goal of happiness maximization.

It is common sense that you stand a better chance of achieving your goal if you have the clarity to give it more priority, isn't it? So, if you truly want to be happy, make sure that you give the goal of being happy your priority. (On a related note, see the following PT Blog post about making "achieving enlightenment" the number one goal.)


Interested in these types of topics? Go here for my new (and free!) online course on happiness

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