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Does Intelligence Boost Happiness? Smartness of All Pays More Than Being Smarter Than Others

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We invest much in maximising intelligence and we get ever smarter: but does this make us any happier? The relation between intelligence and happiness is explored on two levels, at the micro-level of individuals and at the macro-level of nations. At the micro-level, we looked at the results of 23 studies and found no correlation between IQ and happiness. At the macro-level, we assessed the correlation between average IQ and average happiness in 143 nations and found a strong positive relationship. Together these findings mean that smartness of all pays more than being smarter than others.
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Int. J. Happiness and Development, Vol. 1, No. 1, 2012 5
Copyright © 2012 Inderscience Enterprises Ltd.
Does intelligence boost happiness? Smartness of all
pays more than being smarter than others
Ruut Veenhoven
Erasmus University Rotterdam,
POB 1738, 3000DR Rotterdam, Netherlands
and
North-West University, South Africa
E-mail: Veenhoven@fsw.eur.nl
Yowon Choi*
Center for Happiness Studies,
Seoul National University,
Kwanakgu Kwanakro-1 220dong 643ho, South Korea
E-mail: yowonc@gmail.com
*Corresponding author
Abstract: We invest much in maximising intelligence and we get ever
smarter: But does this make us any happier? The relation between intelligence
and happiness is explored on two levels, at the micro-level of individuals
and at the macro-level of nations. At the micro-level, we looked at the results
of 23 studies and found no correlation between IQ and happiness. At the
macro-level, we assessed the correlation between average IQ and average
happiness in 143 nations and found a strong positive relationship. Together
these findings mean that smartness of all pays more than being smarter than
others.
Keywords: happiness; life-satisfaction; intelligence; cross-national; research
synthesis; IQ.
Reference to this paper should be made as follows: Veenhoven, R. and
Choi, Y. (2012) ‘Does intelligence boost happiness? Smartness of all pays
more than being smarter than others’, Int. J. Happiness and Development,
Vol. 1, No. 1, pp.5–27.
Biographical notes: Ruut Veenhoven studied Sociology and is an Emeritus
Professor of Social Conditions for Human Happiness at Erasmus University
Rotterdam, in The Netherlands and extra ordinary Professor at North-West
University in South Africa. He is the Director of the World Database of
Happiness and Founding Editor of the Journal of Happiness Studies. His
research focuses on conditions for happiness and aims at more informed choice
in both public and private matters. His recent publications are: Wellbeing in
Nations and Wellbeing of Nations (2009) and Greater Happiness for a Greater
Number: Is that Possible? If So How? (2011).
Yowon Choi is a Psychologist and a Senior Researcher at the Center for
Happiness Studies of Seoul National University in South Korea. Her research
focuses on psychological resources for happiness, happiness intervention,
mindfulness and aims at long term improvement of individual’s happiness.
Her recent publications are: The Happy Face of Mindfulness: Mindfulness
6 R. Veenhoven and Y. Choi
Meditation is Associated with Perceptions of Happiness as Rated by Outside
Observers (2012) and Pathways to Happiness: Psychological Resources for
Happiness (2011).
1 Introduction
It is commonly assumed that smart people cope better with life and will therefore be
happier, especially in a modern meritocratic society. This belief is one of the reasons why
many parents force their children to spend more time on learning than they might like,
with a hope that more education will make the child more intelligent and thus happier in
later life. Are smarter people really happier? There are also notions such as unworldly
wisdom, creating unhappy eggheads (Lecklider, 2010). And the years spent in school
may be less happy than years spent in real life.
It is generally believed that an intelligent populace will be lead to a better society and
hence to a higher level of public happiness. This is one of the reasons why many
politicians plea for more education than is already standard in modern societies. There are
also counter notions, such as the idea that society has become too rational and that
non-cognitive potential is underdeveloped in modern education.
These ideas are discussed in more detail in this paper, taking into account the
available data on the relationship between intelligence and happiness.
1.1 Views on the relationship between intelligence and happiness
The belief that intelligence links to happiness has several roots. One is that both are
manifestations of a healthy mind. Another view is that intelligence and happiness are
conceptually different but causally related, intelligence being instrumental to happiness
and, possibly, that happiness facilitates intellectual development. In the skeptical view,
intelligence and happiness are also conceptually different and causal relations may be
non-existent or negative. These views are dealt with in more detail below.
1.1.1 Intelligence and happiness as manifestations of a healthy mind
Intelligence is often recognised as ‘wisdom’, especially in the areas of philosophy and
religion. In this view, wisdom is overlapped by happiness, at least by happiness in the
sense of ‘eudaimonia’, which Aristotle associated with intellectual activity (Schwartz and
Sharpe, 2006). In the same vein, intelligence and happiness figure jointly in notions of
positive mental health, e.g., in the discussion of ‘ego resilience’ by Block and Kremen
(1996).
1.1.2 Intelligence generates happiness
The view that intelligence is conductive to happiness has been proclaimed by many
scholars. For instance, Helen Adam Keller (1880–1968) wrote, “Knowledge is happiness,
because to have knowledge – broad deep knowledge – is to know true ends from false
and lofty things from low”…. “To know the thoughts and deeds that have marked man’s
progress is to feel the great heart beats of humanity through the centuries; and if one does
Does intelligence boost happiness? 7
not feel in these pulsations a heavenward striving, one must indeed be deaf to the
harmonies of life” (Keller, 2003). In this view, intelligence means knowledge that is
acquired through education.
Studies into the long-term effects of intelligence also suggest that it has positive
effects on happiness. High scores in intelligence tests at school age are predictive of later
achievements in education and occupation (e.g., Rutter, 1989), and a long-term follow-up
of US children who scored higher than 135 on an IQ test has shown that these master
minds maintained also better health (Terman and Oden, 1959). A recent meta-analysis of
follow-up studies has confirmed that IQ is a powerful predictor of socio-economic
success, but that it has little more power than parental social economic status or school
grades to do this (Strenze, 2007).
1.1.3 Intelligence affects happiness at best marginally
Critics of IQ-testing argue that IQ tests were developed to predict success in school and
predict little more than that, certainly not happiness. Several findings support this view:
e.g., IQ appears to be unrelated to adjustment to military life (Zigler and Seitz, 1982) and
the mental abilities necessary for succeeding as a manager appear to be very different
from the skills assessed in IQ tests (Klemp and McClelland, 1986). Likewise, the relation
between IQ and performance at work appears to reduce over the years and it has been
found that experienced low-IQ workers can outperform co-workers with higher IQ scores
after 4.5 years (Kamin, 1995).
Another criticism levelled at IQ testing is that there is no such thing as ‘general
intelligence’, and that one might better think of ‘multiple intelligences’ that relate in
different ways to performance on different tasks (Gardner, 1984). The idea of ‘emotional
intelligence’ (EI) has been put forward to support the criticism that IQ is limited to the
cognitive process of human mental power (Salovey and Mayer, 1990).
In this school of thought, happiness is more likely to depend on situational relevant
abilities than on a standard set of school-related abilities.
1.1.4 Intelligence brings happiness down
There is also the opposing view that intelligence can decrease happiness. Some of the
reasoning behind this view is that understanding can hurt, in particular because it brings
life’s imperfections to ones awareness. A common stereotype holds that gifted people are
apt to have tragic lives. This view is reflected in popular sayings, such as “From
ignorance our comfort flows, only the wretched are the wise”1, “In much wisdom is much
vexation”, and “Where ignorance is bliss”, “This folly to be wise”2.
Another line of reasoning concerns ‘school-intelligence’ in particular and holds that
the cultivation of this type of intelligence comes at the cost of other capabilities that are
more required to lead a happy life. Illich (1971) is a proponent of this view and advocates
the ‘de-schooling’ of society.
1.1.5 Happiness breeds intelligence
There is a growing body of literature on the consequences of happiness (Lyubomirsky
et al., 2005) and some of this literature suggests that happiness has a positive effect on
cognitive development. For example, people who have been induced to feel happy
8 R. Veenhoven and Y. Choi
perform better at complex mental task (Isen and Means, 1983), people in a positive mood
are more likely to have richer associations within existing knowledge structures and to
use more frequent heuristics, and are more likely to be flexible and creative (Isen, 2000).
Fredrickson’s (2001) ‘broaden and build theory’ suggests that the experiencing of
positive emotions expands people’s momentary thought-action repertoires and builds up
personal resources, including intellectual resources.
The opposite view is that happiness may thwart intellectual development. In this
context, a common argument is that happiness makes people lazy and uncritical, and
therefore less apt to train their brain. This view fits with the idea of ‘depressive realism’;
mildly depressed people are more accurate in their perceptions of how others see them
than those who are not depressed (Alloy and Abramson, 1979). It also matches the
finding that performance of some tasks tends to be lower in induced positive affect states,
among which is the task of solving logical problems (Melton, 1995).
1.2 Plan of this paper
Which of these views fits reality best? Below we report on two studies that give some
answers to this question. Study 1 was a synthesis of the available research findings at the
micro level. We considered the results of 23 studies on the relationship between IQ
and the happiness of individuals. Study 2 was a new study at the macro level in
which average IQ and happiness were compared across nations. We analysed data
from 139 contemporary nations. Two preliminary steps were to define the concepts of
intelligence and happiness and then to select of appropriate measures of these.
2 Concepts and measures
The terms ‘intelligence’ and ‘happiness’ are used in different ways in different fields.
Hence our first step was to define how we will use these terms.
2.1 Intelligence
A common definition of intelligence is “the ability to understand complex ideas, to adapt
effectively to the environment, to learn from experience, to engage in various forms of
reasoning, to overcome obstacles by taking thought” (Neisser et al., 1996). This broad
definition covers several more specific notions of intelligence that link with different
methods of measurement.
2.1.1 School intelligence
Mostly, the word intelligence is used to denote a set of school-related mental capabilities
that can be measured using an IQ test. These tests were initially developed as a means to
predict school success (Binet and Simon, 1916) and hence they are designed largely to
measure the same capabilities as actual school performance, such as quantified in GPA
scores. There is a massive research literature on this kind of intelligence (Sternberg,
2000a).
Does intelligence boost happiness? 9
2.1.2 Other mental abilities
The term intelligence is also used to denote mental capabilities that are less central to
school education, such as the ability to find new solutions (creativity) and the ability to
read other people’s feelings (empathy). These matters are not easily ‘tested’ using
performance on tasks and therefore several investigators have resorted to using
self-estimates (Bar-On, 1997). This technique is dubious however (Derksen et al., 2002)
and certainly not suited to assess the relationship of intelligence with happiness, since
happy people typically have higher self-esteem and are thus likely to be more positive
about their skills. Although there is considerable research on the relationships between
these types of intelligence with happiness, we will not consider this in this paper.3
2.1.3 Wisdom
Intelligence is sometimes denoted as ‘wisdom’ and in this case the term is used to cover a
broad range of mental proficiencies and attitudes, among which are a distanced view
on life and moral maturity. There have been some attempts to approach wisdom
systematically as a psychological variable (Baltes and Staudinger, 2000; Sternberg,
2000b), and even to measure this, using lengthy self report inventories (Hawley, 1999;
Ardelt, 2003). Scores on such self reports are related to self reported happiness (Bergsma
and Ardelt, 2011), but the correlation could be the spurious result of a positive view on
oneself. There are also attempts to assess wisdom using objective assessment of core
capabilities, such as clinical ratings of insight in oneself, accurate use of personal
information in making choices and systemising goals plans and life stories (Mayer,
2009). Yet the meaning of the subject matter covered is not too clear and data are scarce.
Given these constraints, we will define intelligence in the narrow sense as school
intelligence, and use IQ-tests and school grades as indicators of intelligence. The issue is
thus reduced to the question of whether further cultivation of school-related abilities will
make us happier.
2.2 Happiness
Happiness is defined as the ‘subjective enjoyment of one’s life-as-a-whole’ and is also
called ‘life-satisfaction’. This concept is delineated in more detail in Veenhoven (1984,
pp.22–37; 2010a). Happiness in this sense concerns one’s subjective appraisal of life and
does not overlap with intelligence when seen as objective mental capability.
Since happiness is something we are aware of, it can be measured using self-report.
Various questions and questionnaires have been used for this purpose, but not all of these
address the matter equally well. Some questions concern subtly different things, such as
whether one thinks one-self to be happier than average, and most multi-item inventories
reduce the evaluation of life-as-a-whole to the sum of one’s satisfaction with a set of
specific life-domains. Still, there are many acceptable measures and these are listed in the
collection ‘measures of happiness’ that is part of the World Database of Happiness
(Veenhoven, 2010a).
10 R. Veenhoven and Y. Choi
3 Study 1: synthesis of studies at the individual level
Studies on the relationship between intelligence and happiness at the level of the
individual were selected from the Bibliography of Happiness (Veenhoven, 2010b),
subject section ‘cognitive abilities’ (code Ic04.02). We found 23 empirical studies. These
studies were done in ten different nations and involved 15,827 respondents. We extracted
61 findings from the reports. The findings on earlier intelligence and current happiness
are reported in Appendix A. The findings on current intelligence and current happiness
are reported in Appendix B. The findings were too diverse to make a quantitative
meta-analysis. We will thus present a narrative account of the findings below.
3.1 Earlier intelligence and present happiness
In six follow-up studies among normal people the relationship between initial intelligence
and later happiness was assessed. Four of these studies found no greater happiness among
initially smarter people. One of the studies shows the reverse, managers who scored high
on IQ tests when entering a company in their twenties, appeared to be less happy in their
forties than colleagues who had scored lower. Another study found a positive effect of
earlier verbal ability on happiness, but no effect for earlier mathematical ability
(Appendix A1).
A long-term follow-up of a cohort of exceptionally intelligent schoolchildren also
does not show a positive effect for intelligence on happiness, forty years on the ‘very
gifted (IQ > 180) appeared to be no happier than the ‘just’ gifted (IQ > 140). See
Appendix A2.
3.2 Current intelligence and current happiness
In 19 of the studies researchers had assessed the relationship between current intelligence
and current happiness. In eight of these studies overall IQ scores were used. No positive
relationships were found between IQ and happiness and in one case a negative correlation
appeared, again in the study among managers (Appendix B1).
In ten of the studies specific intellectual abilities were considered and few significant
correlations were found. The scores of subjects tested on perceptual and mathematical
ability appeared to be unrelated to happiness. At best there are indications that
performance in memory tasks and idea generation is related to happiness. In one of these
studies the researchers controlled for other predictors of happiness and this reduced the
correlation to insignificance (Appendix B2).
No correlation was found in six studies where researchers considered the relationship
of a subject’s current verbal ability and happiness (Appendix B3).
Finally, in three studies the subjects were individuals with intellectual disabilities.
The degree of disability appeared to be unrelated to happiness, but those with an
intellectual disability appeared to be happier than normal people (Appendix B4).
These findings fit an earlier meta-analysis by DeNeve and Cooper (1998) who found
almost no correlation between intelligence and happiness in a series of 19 studies, most
of which were also used in the present analysis.
Does intelligence boost happiness? 11
3.3 Self-perceived intelligence and happiness
Although little correlation has been found between actual intelligence and happiness,
several studies have found strong correlations between self-perceived intelligence and
happiness. These data are not shown here, but can be found on the collection of
‘correlational findings’ of the World Database of Happiness (Veenhoven, 2010c), subject
section ‘Happiness and self perceived intelligence’ (code I3.2.3). This finding fits our
reservations about self-report measures of wisdom and emotional intelligence.
Table 1 Summary of findings
Kind of intelligence Correlation with happiness
IQ of normal persons +/0/– Earlier
Very high IQ (vs. high) 0
General IQ 0
Specific abilities 0
Actual intelligence
Current
Normal (vs. disabled)
Self-perceived intelligence ++
4 Study 2: average IQ and happiness in nations
Study 1 showed that school-smart individuals are not happier. Still it could be that in
smart populaces the group profits from abilities that are not profitable for individual
members. We investigated this with in an analysis of average intelligence and happiness
in 139 nations.
4.1 Data
Findings on IQ scores in nations were gathered by Lynn and VanHanen (2002, 2006),
who found comparable data for 192 nations for the second half of the 20th century. Most
of these data resulted from the application of a Raven progressive matrices test to
representative samples. The data were adjusted for the Flynn effect so that scores
obtained in different periods could be combined.
Data on average happiness in these nations were taken from the World Database of
Happiness; collection ‘Happiness in Nations’ (Veenhoven, 2010d). These data are based
on surveys in the general population in various nations over the years 2000 to 2009 and
cover 150 nations. In most of these countries happiness was measured using the
following question: All things considered, how satisfied or dissatisfied are you with your
life as-a-whole these days? Responses were rated on a numerical scale ranging from 0
(not satisfied) to 10 (very satisfied). Rating ranged from 1 to 10 in some of the surveys
and these scores were stretched linearly. Details are reported in Veenhoven (2010d).
The IQ and the happiness variables are available for 143 nations4, which covers about
95% of the world’s population. The large number of nations for both variables was
crucial. Earlier analyses using smaller numbers of nations have yielded different results
(Choi and Veenhoven, 2005; Lynn, 2008).
12 R. Veenhoven and Y. Choi
Table 2 Data on IQ and happiness in 143 nations
Actual range M SD
IQ 59–108 84.7 11.8
Happiness 3.2–8.5 5.9 1.3
4.2 Results
There is a strong correlation between IQ and happiness in nations: r = +.605. This relation
is depicted graphically in Figure 1.
Figure 1 Average IQ and average happiness in 143 nations
The correlation is largely driven by the cluster of nations that pair low IQ with
low happiness at the bottom left of the scattergram. These are mainly African nations,
where data was not available for earlier studies on this matter, e.g., Zimbabwe (ZW)
and Mozambique (MZ). The pattern is less clear in the bigger cluster at top-right, where
the average IQ is higher than 80. This is why earlier studies found no relationship
between IQ and happiness (Choi and Veenhoven, 2005; Lynn, 2008). In this context the
position of the industrialised Asian nations is noteworthy. China (CN), Hong Kong (HK),
South Korea (KR), Japan (JP) and Singapore (SG) score highest on IQ, but not on
happiness.
At first sight this would suggest that there is a pattern of diminishing returns, i.e.,
smart countries do not become much happier as they get even smarter. Yet particular
circumstances may depress the correlation in this cluster as we will argue in the
discussion section.
Does intelligence boost happiness? 13
4.2.1 Control for economic development
Typically, IQ is higher in the more developed nations and the higher happiness in these
nations may be due to related matters such as economic prosperity, political democracy
and personal freedom. We checked for this possibility by controlling for buying power
per head, which is a good proxy for societal development6. The correlation is halved: the
partial correlation being +.35.
To get a closer view we also ran separate analyses for subsets of poor nations, with a
buying power per head lower than $8,000, and rich nations where buying power is more
than this. Among the poor nations we found a positive correlation, r = +.52. Among rich
nations a lower correlation emerged: r = +.177.
4.2.2 Split-up by culture
The correlation found between IQ and happiness in nations could also be the spurious
result of cultural differences, for instance because Western cultures value intellectual
development and also happen to nurture happiness. We checked for this in a separate
analysis of six subsets of nations: African nations, Asian nations, Middle East nations,
ex-communist East-European nations, Latin America and Western nations. We found
high positive correlations in the following regions: Asia, Latin America, Middle East and
western nations. No correlation appeared among African nations and former communist
East European nations. See Table 3.
Table 3 Correlation between average IQ and happiness in different sets of nations
Set of nations r N
All nations +.60 143
Rich nations > 8,000 +.17 65
Poor nations < 8,000 +.52 75
African nations +.06 35
Asian nations +.62 20
East-European nations +.02 25
Middle-East nations +.20 15
Latin American nations +.47 24
Western nations +.43 23
This latter test of the correlation in different cultures suggests that there is a robust
statistical relationship between average IQ and happiness in nations, which tends to be
disguised when all cultures are put in one hat. This is another reason why our result
differs from the earlier analysis by Lynn (2008).
5 Discussion
No correlation between IQ and happiness was found at the individual level (Study 1) but
a strong correlation between the two was found at the nation level (Study 2). How can
that be? Let us first consider these findings separately and then the contradiction.
14 R. Veenhoven and Y. Choi
5.1 Why are smarter people not happier?
In Study 1, we found no correlation between IQ and happiness, neither for childhood IQ
and present day happiness, nor for current IQ and current happiness. The following
explanations come to mind.
5.1.1 Trivial?
One explanation could be that intelligence is too trivial to affect happiness. In this
approach one can argue that IQ tests measure a rather narrow range of cognitive abilities
that predict success in school better than success in life. Yet there is good evidence that
IQ predicts more than performance in school, it also predicts success at work and a high
IQ is even predictive of health and longevity (Terman and Oden, 1959; Rutter, 1989;
Herrnstein and Murray, 1994; Hartog and Oosterbeek, 1998; Singh-Manoux et al., 2005;
Strenze, 2007). In this light, a more probable explanation would seem to be that the
evident rewards of intelligence are counterbalanced in some way. The question is then: In
what ways?
5.1.2 Negative concomitants of IQ
One offset could be in expectations. School-smart people could expect more of life and
therefore end up equally happy as the less smart, who expect less. A related drawback
could be that gifted people must live up to the high expectations of their kin (Holahan
et al., 1999).
This explanation is also used to account for the low correlation between education
and happiness (Diener and Biswas-Diener, 2002; Hartog and Oosterbeek, 1998).
However, one could as well assume that the expectations of intelligent people are more
realistic, which should give rise to greater happiness. At a more basic level, the cognitive
theory behind this explanation can be criticised. Happiness is mostly not ‘calculated’
from the difference between ideal and reality, but is rather ‘inferred’ from affective
experience, which in its turn reflects the gratification of basic needs (Veenhoven, 2009).
Another explanation holds that knowledge hurts, because it confronts us with the
imperfections of this world and our-self. In this view, ignorance is bliss. Yet this account
does not fit the fact that happy people are typically well-informed and open to acquiring
more information (Isen, 2002).
A more plausible explanation would seem to be that the cultivation of
school-intelligence involves costs. These costs can be in hours spent in school, not spent
on sports or socialising and thus in underdevelopment of other capabilities required to
lead a satisfying life. In this light, Diener and Seligman (2002) warn against sacrificing
the time required to develop satisfying relationships with friends and family. The
unhappy ‘nerd’ who is good with books but clumsy in social life may be exemplary of a
wider phenomenon. A related explanation is that smart pupils have to live up to high
expectations (Holahan et al., 1999). These explanations link up with criticism of school
systems that focus too much on test performance, such as the competitive school systems
of Japan and South Korea, where children are often required to take extra out of hours
classes to succeed.
In the same vein, there could be costs involved in intellectual work, such as
overburdening the brain and lack of physical effort. Though symbol-manipulation is a
Does intelligence boost happiness? 15
specialty of the human species, the human repertoire is broader. There may also be
attendant costs such as working in an alienating bureaucracy. To our knowledge this
matter has not been investigated to any extent, possibly because investigators tend to
value brainwork too highly.
5.1.3 Selectiveness
Another explanation could be that unhappy people are more apt to cultivate their brains
and that this selection veils an otherwise positive effect of intelligence on happiness. A
check of this explanation would require follow-up of a cohort from childhood on. The
follow-ups reviewed in Study 1 cannot answer this question, since happiness was not
assessed at baseline. To our knowledge there are no studies that meet this requirement.
In conclusion: we have a clear outcome, but no definite way to account for it; and
what we are left with is a relevant issue for further research.
5.2 Why still greater happiness in smarter nations?
In Study 2, we found a strong correlation between average IQ and average happiness in
nations. Study 1 showed that this cannot be due to the greater happiness of smarter
individuals. What else can explain this result?
5.2.1 Spurious correlation?
One possible explanation is that average IQ and average happiness depend on the same
social conditions. One such condition can be the availability of adequate nutrition and
health care, since both intelligence and happiness benefit from a healthy body, in
particular from healthy pre- and post-natal conditions. Likewise, the modernising of
society can boost both intelligence and happiness. Societal modernisation enhances
intelligence for several reasons, one of which is that use of technology sets high demands
on symbol manipulation. Modernisation of society can also enhanced happiness
(Veenhoven and Berg, submitted), one of the reasons being that it involves individuals
having more choice. Together these developments can create a positive correlation, while
intelligence does not add to happiness or may even detract from it.
Much of this common variance should be removed when the degree of modernity is
partialled out. We did that check in Section 4.2. The correlation was halved, but remained
substantial: partial r being +.35. Splitting the poor and rich nations also did not wipe out
the correlation. So this cannot be the whole story. What is more, modernity can also be a
causal link between average intelligence and happiness in nations, as we will see below.
Should more nation characteristics be controlled, as a reviewer suggested?8 Controls
make sense only if there are good reasons to expect that a variable distorts the picture and
we do not see plausible candidates. It is easier to think of variables that mediate the
relation between average intelligence and happiness in nations.
5.2.2 Possible causal effects
For society to function its members require various abilities and these abilities differ as to
society evolves: e.g., physical skill will be, generally, more important in a hunter-gatherer
society than in a present day industrial society. The abstract mental abilities that we call
16 R. Veenhoven and Y. Choi
‘intelligence’ are particularly essential for the functioning of modern society, which is
characterised by a fine grained division of labour and continuous technological
development. It is for this reason that all modern societies have developed extensive
education systems (Nolan and Lenski, 2009).
As noted above, a modern society breeds more happiness than a pre-modern society
does; in the most modern nations of this time we now live longer and happier than ever
before in human history. Various causal mechanisms are involved, such as a stable social
environment that allows much individual autonomy, produces less violent conflict,
provides for more material comfort, offers better health care, all set in a competitive
economy that keeps us going (Veenhoven, 2006, 2010e). Seen in this context, a high
level of intelligence is instrumental for this type of society that in its turn is instrumental
to happiness. In this way the average intelligence of the population in a country can give
rise to greater happiness indirectly, with its effect being mediated by societal conditions.
This explanation predicts that the correlation will largely disappear when societal
development is controlled. This appears to be the case indeed. As noted above, the
correlation is reduces to +.35 when income per head is partialled out. In this line one can
also expect that average intelligence in a country is also instrumental to the proper
functioning of institutions in his complex type of society. Additional control for
government effectiveness9 and rule of law10 reduces indeed the correlation to +.27.
Since societal development does not explain all the common variance of average
intelligence and happiness in nations, there are apparently more causal effects involved.
One of these could be the reduction of conflict, intelligent populations being less apt to
stereotyping and more inclined to peaceful conflict resolution. If so, that should
materialise in less violent conflict, greater trust and more tolerance. Additional control for
these variables should therefore reduce the correlation even further. This implication
cannot be checked as yet, because we lack data on that matter for the African nations
where intelligence is lowest.
5.3 Why no stronger correlation among developed nations?
If intelligence is more functional in developed society, one would expect that the
correlation between average IQ and happiness is stronger among the most developed
nations than among the least developed nations. Table 3 provides mixed support for this
prediction. The correlation between average IQ and average happiness is indeed lowest
among the least developed African nations. Yet among all the poor nations together, the
correlation is higher than among the rich nations.
Possibly, this is a historical coincidence. All the nations at the right part of the
scheme are developed nations with strong schooling systems that produce an intelligent
populace. Yet in some of these countries the level of happiness is lower than
characteristic for developed nations. In the East-European nations, happiness is
temporarily depressed by the legacy of communism and the rapid transformation since
1990. Happiness is picking up in these countries (Baltatescu, 2006), but that does not yet
reflect the scores used here, which draw on surveys between 2000 and 2009. Average
happiness is also relatively low in Asian ‘Tiger’ nations and this pattern may also be due
to social transitions, among which the change from traditional collectivism to modern
individualism (Stam and Veenhoven, 2007). If so, the correlation between average IQ
and happiness will get stronger in this part of the world in the years coming.
Does intelligence boost happiness? 17
6 Conclusions
Smart people are not happier than their less smart fellow citizens, but average smartness
of compatriots goes together with average happiness in nations. This suggests that
intelligence adds to happiness only indirectly though its effects on society. Educators
should acknowledge this counter intuitive finding.
References11
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Notes
1 Prior, 17C.
2 Gray (1981).
3 That research is summarised in the World Database of Happiness, collection ‘Correlational
Findings’ (Veenhoven, 2010c). Look under: creativity (subject code C10).
4 These data on average IQ and average happiness in nations are available in the data file ‘States
of Nations’ (Veenhoven, 2010e), which contains much more data on nation characteristics,
among which data on income per head. This data file is available on request. The variable
codes are respectively IQ_2006 and HappinessLS10.11_2000s.
5 Unlike most cross-national studies we do not report significance of correlations. Significance-
statistics provide information about the likelihood that the correlation observed in a sample
exists in the wider population and assumes probability sampling. Since this set of nations does
not represent a representative sample of all nations of the world, such statistics make no sense
here.
6 In this set of 140 nations buying power per head is highly correlated with other manifestations
of modernity, such as share of the service sector (r = +.53), urbanisation (r = +.64), women
emancipation (r = +.76) and globalisation (r = +.78).
7 Different cut-off points between rich and poor produce similar results.
8 A reviewer suggests that we control the level of education in a country, using literacy as an
indicator. Control for enrolment in education reduces the indeed the correlation between
Does intelligence boost happiness? 21
average intelligence and happiness in nations, but does not demonstrate a spurious effects,
Schooling and intelligence are two sides of the same coin and hence controlling one wipes out
the other.
9 Variables in data file States of Nations: GovDemocraticQuality_2006 and
GGovEffectiveness_2066.
10 Variable in data file states of nations: RuleLaw_2006.
11 References marked with an asterisk indicate studies included in the data analysis.
22 R. Veenhoven and Y. Choi
Appendix A1
Earlier intelligence and current happiness among normal people
Subjects N Test of intelligence Measure of happiness Observed relationship Study
Scholastic aptitude test (SAT) r = +.12, ns Male college students, USA,
followed three years
17
Mathematical aptitude test (MAT)
Average self report of daily mood over
three weeks of experience sampling) r = +.17, ns
Wessman and
Ricks (1966)
High school boys, USA, followed
three years from tenth grade
1,628 Quick test of intelligence Self-report of being a
‘happy person’ on six questions
r = ns Bachman et al.
(1970)
Rating by four experts r = –.34, p < .01 Male high ranking employees of a
telephone company, USA, followed
from their late 20th to their late ‘40s
422
Multiple-choice intellectual test with
verbal and quantitative scales
Expert rating of ‘pleasure in life’,
based on regular assessments r = –.26, p < .05
Bray and
Howard (1980)
Mathematical ability ns* Dutch individuals born in 1940,
IQ test at age 12, happiness
measured at age 53
1,893
Verbal ability
Self report of life satisfaction
on single question + p < .05
Hartog and
Oosterbeek
(1998)
Scottish individuals born in 1921,
IQ test at age 11, happiness
measured at age 79
550 Moray house test number 12 Self report of satisfaction with life
scale on five items (Diener’s)
r = .00, ns Gow et al.
(2005)
Canadian WWII veterans 326 Army intelligence test
administered 1941–1945
Memorial University of
Newfoundland Scale of Happiness
(MUNSH) administered 1984–1986
r = +.14, ns Arbucle et al.
(1992)
Note: *Association expressed in ordered probits, which do not allow interpretation of absolute effect size.
Does intelligence boost happiness? 23
Appendix A2
Earlier IQ and current happiness among gifted persons
Subjects N Test of intelligence Measure of happiness Observed relationship Study
Elementary school pupils
scoring < 140 on IQ test, USA,
1922 followed until 1992
430 Combined quotient on Stanford
achievement test at age 12 (in 1922)
Self-report on single question:
on achievement of life goal,
‘joy in living’ in 1960
Chi
2
= ns* Sears and Barbee
(1977)
Sub-sample of males 34 Very gifted happier (74%)
than gifted (68%)
Sub-sample of females 18
Just gifted (IQ > 140)
vs.
very gifted (IQ > 180)
Success in reaching goals in life in
1960. Rated importance of goals
multiplied by reported success in
attaining that goals Very gifted less happy (57%)
than gifted (64%)
Feldman (1984)
Notes: Studies based on Terman’s follow-up study of people who scored high on the Standfort-Binet test at age 12 (T1) ‘gifted’: IQ > 140, ‘very gifted’: IQ > 180.
*Chi value not reported.
24 R. Veenhoven and Y. Choi
Appendix B1
Current IQ and happiness – general IQ test
Subjects N Test of intelligence Measure of happiness Observed relationship Study
Graduate students in
education, USA
388 Otis S-A test of mental ability Self report of common mood Males:
r = –.03 Females:
r = –.09
Watson (1930)
Female college
students, USA
238 Ohio University psychological
examination (below vs.
above the 75 percentile)
Self-report of happiness and
contentment on multi questions
D% = +, s Washburne
(1941)
High school boys of
tenth grade, USA
1,628 Quick test of Intelligence Self-report of being a ‘happy
person’ on six questions
r = ns Bachman et al.
(1970)
Institutionalised
retarded males, USA
149 Data from hospital records Staff rating of cheerfulness Open ward: r = +.04, ns
Closed ward: r = –.16, ns
Pandey (1971)
46+ aged, USA 502 Wechsler Adult Intelligence scale Self report of overall happiness
on Cantril ladder
r = +.05 Palmore and
Luikart (1972)
Rating by four experts r = –.30, p < .01 40+ aged male
managers, USA
422
Multiple-choice intellectual test
with verbal and quantitative scales
Expert rating of ‘pleasure in life
based on regular assessments r = –.25, p < .05
Bray and
Howard (1980)
18+ aged, USA 2,650 Shortened Thorndike intelligence test
(verbal)
Self report of happiness on
single question
r = +.06,
p < .01
beta = –.01, ns controlling: age, gender,
race, education, family income, marital
status, church attendance, political
participation and health
Sigelman
(1981)
Self-report on one question of
happiness, three-point happiness
r = –.06, ns Army recruits,
Norway
269 Norwegian armed forced test battery
with mathematical, verbal, and
spatial section Self-report on one question of
general life satisfaction,
seven-point happiness
r = –.07, ns
Watten et al.
(1995)
r = +.04, ns (men) 18–33 aged, USA 95 Revised Wechsler adult intelligence
scale (WAIS-R)
Rating of ‘cheerfulness’
by six judges on the basis
of clinical interviews r = –.08, ns (women)
Block and
Kremen (1996)
Does intelligence boost happiness? 25
Appendix B2
Current IQ and happiness – special ability tests
Subjects N Test of intelligence Measure of happiness Observed relationship Study
Female college
students, USA
72 Time necessary to number
backwards from 100 to 1
Self-report of average mood on single question r = +.02, ns Ludwig (1971)
Adults, Germany 1,894 Open question about ideas they
associate with a certain city,
profession or political concept
Rating by interviewer of cheerful appearance Cheerful looking Ss
produce more associations
in the interview
Noelle-Neumann
(1980)
Self-report of mood of the day on single question,
answered every evening during six weeks
r = +.14, ns Hidden figure test: 16 item multiple-choice
tests asking which one of five
simple figures was embedded
in a given complex figure. Self-report of overall happiness on Cantril ladder r = +.09, ns
Gorman (1971)
Self-report of mood of the day on single question,
answered every evening during six weeks
r = +.23, ns Hidden pattern test: asking to check the
instances in which 200 complex figures
contains a given simple figure Self-report of overall happiness on Cantril ladder r = +.24, p < .05
Self-report of mood of the day on single question,
answered every evening during six weeks
r = +.16, ns Barron-Welsh art scale of
perceptual rigidity: 20 pairs questions to
choose more elaborate figure Self-report of overall happiness on Cantril ladder r = –.15, ns
Self-report of mood of the day on single question,
answered every evening during six weeks
r = –45, p < .01 Breskin 15 item rigidity test:
to choose 'good fit' figure
Self-report of overall happiness on Cantril ladder r = –15, ns
Self-report of mood of the day on single question,
answered every evening during six weeks
r = +.08, ns
College students,
USA
67
Barron-Welsh art scale: to choose unusual
figures, set of figures differing in
complexity, shading and symmetry Self-report of overall happiness on Cantril ladder r = –22, ns
Female College
students, USA
31 Rod-and frame test and
the embedded figures test
Self-report of average affect in 16 item
‘elation-depression scale’
r = +.05, ns Tobacyk (1981)
Digit span +.19 ns
Story recognition +.16 ns
Cued recall +.08 ns
Canadian WW II
veterans
326
Free recall
Memorial University of Newfoundland
Scale of Happiness (MUNSH)
+.05 ns
Arbucle et al.
(1992)
26 R. Veenhoven and Y. Choi
Appendix B3
Current IQ and happiness – verbal test
Subjects N Test of intelligence Measure of happiness Observed relationship Study
Test of reading comprehension r = +.02, ns High school
boys, USA
2,213
Vocabulary test in
general aptitude test battery
Self-report of being a ‘happy person on six questions
r = +.02, ns
Bachman et al.
(1970)
College students,
USA
952 S.A.I.: verbal score in the
form of local percentile rank
SAT: verbal score in the
form of local percentile rank
Self-report of average mood on single question Difference ns Constantinople
(1965)
Self-report of mood of the day on single question,
answered every evening during six weeks
r = +.16, ns Advanced vocabulary test V-4
Self-report of overall happiness on Cantril ladder r = +.07, ns
Self-report of mood of the day on single question,
answered every evening during six weeks
r = +.12, ns
Gorman (1971)
College students,
USA
67
Assessment of mood repertoire
using the number of words
mentioned in 3 min Self-report of overall happiness on Cantril ladder r = +.01, ns
Mentally
retarded males
149 Rating by staff on seven point scale,
talk unintelligently to talk well
Rating of general cheerfulness by two independent
staff members who were familiar with the patient
Open ward: r = –.00, ns
Closed ward: r = –.08, ns
Pandey (1971)
12 aged male
school pupils,
England
194 Paring opposite meaning words,
reconstructing sentences
Peer rating of general cheerfulness r = +.20, ns Webb (1915)
18+ aged, USA 2,650 Shortened Thorndike
intelligence test (verbal)
Self-report of overall happiness on single question r = +.06, p < .01, beta = –.01, ns,
controlling age, gender, race,
education, family income, marital
status, church attendance, political
participation and health condition.
Sigelman
(1981)
Does intelligence boost happiness? 27
Appendix B4
Current intelligence and current happiness: comparison of normal and learning
disabled persons
Subjects N Measure of intelligence Measure of happiness Observed relationship Study
Rating of general cheerfulness by parents Retarded happier: p < .04
Normal and retarded
boys, USA
80 Normal vs. retarded
Time sampling of happy behaviour by two independent
observers in both a class situation and at recess
Retarded boys happier
Retarded girls not
Cameron (1975)
Institutionalised
retarded males, USA
149 IQ test Staff rating of general cheerfulness ns Pandey (1971)
18–77 aged,
intellectually disabled
376 Normal vs. borderline vs.
moderately disabled
Self report of overall happiness on single question d = –.07, p < .07* Matikka and
Ojanen (2002)
Note: Somers d computed from frequency distribution.
... These studies further confirm various factors other than GDP per capita that influence happiness, for example, socio-economic and socio-demographic conditions. Health (physical) (Veenhoven, 1991), age (Blanchflower & Oswald, 2008), marriage (Stack & Eshleman, 1998), political, economic, and personal freedom (Veenhoven, 2012), democracy (Dorn et al., 2007), entrepreneurship (Hundley, 2001), voluntary work (Meier & Stutzer, 2008), social relations (Helliwell et al., 2009), intelligence (Veenhoven & Choi, 2012). Studies such as Oswald (1997), Gerdtham & Johannesson (2001), Frey & Stutzer (2002) emphasize socio-demographic factors to explain happiness. ...
... These studies further confirm various factors other than GDP per capita that influence happiness, for example, socio-economic and socio-demographic conditions. Health (physical) (Veenhoven, 1991), age (Blanchflower & Oswald, 2008), marriage (Stack & Eshleman, 1998), political, economic, and personal freedom (Veenhoven, 2012), democracy (Dorn et al., 2007), entrepreneurship (Hundley, 2001), voluntary work (Meier & Stutzer, 2008), social relations (Helliwell et al., 2009), intelligence (Veenhoven & Choi, 2012). Studies such as Oswald (1997), Gerdtham & Johannesson (2001), Frey & Stutzer (2002) emphasize socio-demographic factors to explain happiness. ...
... This finding is different from previous research, which states that health variables influence happiness (Kawachi et al., 1997;Majeed & Samreen, 2021;Dolan et al., 2008;Majeed & Liqat, 2019;Kessler, 1997), but it is in line with research. The education variable has a significant effect on the happiness variable (Coleman, 1988;Behzad, 2002;Ghamari, 2012;Veenhoven & Choi, 2012). In the first model, the estimation results explain that only the Family Consumption Expenditure (PKK) variable significantly affects the per capita GRDP variable (rejects H 0 ) at the level of significant (α) 10%. ...
Article
This study seeks to see the relationship between the human development index (HDI) and gross regional domestic product (GRDP) variables on the happiness of economic growth data for provinces in Indonesia. The method used in this research is regression and path analysis. This study proves that happiness is not caused by the income (GRDP) of a region but rather significantly by one of the dimensions of HDI, namely the education dimension. The relationship through the variable between using path analysis through the indirect effect of the GRDP intermediary also significantly affects the education dimension. About 60% of the variable quality of education plays a role in happiness. If the effect is through an intermediary variable, the real influence of the variable quality of education on happiness is 65%. Other variables such as health and economy, directly or indirectly, do not significantly affect the level of happiness.JEL Classification: I3, E5, R10How to Cite:Rizal, S., & Fitrianto, A. (2021). Can Revenue and Human Development Promote Happiness: Study on Provinces in Indonesia. Signifikan: Jurnal Ilmu Ekonomi, 10(1), 113-128. https://doi.org/10.15408/sjie.v10i1.17600.
... When it comes to intelligence as indicated by IQ, extant research has mainly focused on its relationship with one aspect of PWB, namely selfreported happiness. Until recently, most studies have failed to establish a positive effect of IQ on happiness (for a review see Veenhoven & Choi, 2012), fortifying the claim of the former's irrelevance for PWB. However, three newer studies with large, representative samples (Ali et al., 2013;Kanazawa, 2014;Nikolaev & Juergensen McGee, 2016) consistently reported positive associations between IQ (verbal/general) and happiness-thus suggesting that the above widespread assertion be reconsidered. ...
... Empirically supporting the proposed role of SES, Ali et al. (2013) found the IQ-happiness relationship to be strongly mediated by income, and Sigelman (1981( , in Diener et al., 1999 reported a non-significant effect of intelligence on PWB once sociodemographic variables were controlled for. In view of such findings, a common suggestion in the relevant literature has been to shift the focus from academic to other types of intelligence (Diener et al., 1999;Nikolaev & Juergensen McGee, 2016;Veenhoven & Choi, 2012), which may be more directly responsible for PWB. ...
... Finally, it should be kept in mind that we employed a correlational design, precluding any definite conclusions about causal relationships. As noted by other researchers, the possibility exists that well-being could breed intelligence (Veenhoven & Choi, 2012): for instance, feeling happy and good about oneself could allow one to be more intellectually efficient and to build or come up with more intellectual resources. ...
... However, does wealth or income alone reflect the level of well-being or happiness in the society? Recent empirical studies, such as Veenhoven and Choi (2012) and Stolarski et al. (2015), found that societies with higher average IQ display significantly higher levels of happiness than societies with lower IQ. The level of happiness is associated with higher achievement not only in science and mathematics, but also with verbal abilities. ...
... For example, Stolarski et al. (2015) emphasised a stronger relationship between national IQ and happiness in countries with more individualistic citizens, who focus more on developing personal qualities and achieving individualistic goals. On the contrary, Veenhoven and Choi (2012) found no significant correlation between IQ and happiness at the individual level, but a positive relationship between IQ and happiness was found at the level of nations. The study suggested an interaction between IQ and 'living in group' where the average IQ of the population (group) was more important than possessing higher IQ at the individual level. ...
... However, unlike the stronger association between intelligence and health, the interrelation between intelligence and happiness has been largely mixed. A review of 23 studies found no correlation between IQ and happiness, but there was a strong positive relationship at the macro-level comparing 143 nations (Veenhoven & Choi, 2012). Lastly, there are well-established associations between the Big 5 personality traits with health and well-being (Gale et al., 2013). ...
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In this prospective study, we examined the link between positive family relationships during childhood and adolescence and health and happiness three decades later in middle adulthood. We also investigated the stability of positive family relationships into adulthood as one possible pathway underlying this long-term association. Data were from the Fullerton Longitudinal Study (FLS) an ongoing investigation in the United States initiated in 1979 when children were aged 1 year with the most recent data collected in 2017. A cross-informant methodology was employed in which mothers and children independently completed the Positive Family Relationships (PFR) scale annually when children were of ages 9-17 years. When study children reached age 38, they reported on their current PFR, global health, and comprehensive happiness. Structural equation models revealed that children's perceptions of the family during childhood and adolescence predicted both their health and happiness at age 38. Mothers' perspectives of PFR predicted greater adult children's health, but did not predict their happiness. Associations were independent of family socioeconomic status, gender, intelligence, and extraversion. Moreover, while controlling for behavior problems (proxy for health) and happiness at age 17, both children's and mothers' early PFR related to PFR at 38 years, which in turn, predicted increased health and happiness at age 38, thus providing evidence for a pathway underlying this long-term connection. Our prospective findings revealed that families in which members get along well and support each other during the childhood and adolescent years furnish a foundation for positive family relationships in adulthood, which are associated with greater health and happiness. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved).
... Studying the effects of cultural orientations like uncertainty avoidance and individualistic and collectivistic orientations will help understand these processes better (Stavrova, 2019). Previous studies have also found that more trusting cultures (Tokuda et al., 2017); level of education (Florida et al., 2013) and national IQ (Veenhoven and Choi, 2012) share a positive correlation with happiness while national levels of neuroticism (Rentfrow et al., 2008) have a negative association with happiness and life satisfaction. Researchers have also tried to compare the differences in life satisfaction between the East and the West, although daily reports do not reveal any significant differences (Oishi, 2002). ...
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This study examines the state of happiness of Indian employees, identifies the antecedents of their happiness, and explores the correlates of their workplace happiness. It is based on a sample of 400 public sector employees belonging to the education, health, banking and manufacturing sectors in northern India. SPSS version 23 was used to analyse the collected data using descriptive and inferential statistical tests. Results indicate that most employees are contented with their happiness at work, but their overall happiness level is not very high. The studies findings reinforce that flow, intrinsic motivation and supportive organisational experiences are important contributors to employee happiness. The study results indicate that the type of family, income and years of experience significantly affect employee happiness. The study highlights the organisational interventions which can contribute to employee workplace happiness. This endeavour would also have important implications for the interpretation of the predictors of employee happiness.
... However, to our knowledge, while the vast literature on happiness has proposed and proved all kinds of sources of happiness (Veenhoven, 2015), such as national wealth (Easterlin, 1974;Veenhoven & Vergunst, 2014), freedom (Veenhoven, 1999), security (Veenhoven, 2011), modernity (Veenhoven & Berg, 2013), and institution (Rode, 2013) at the macro level, organizational size and autonomy (Veenhoven, 2015) at the meso level, and social status (Veenhoven & Choi, 2012) and social participation (Bartels & Boomsma, 2009) at the micro level, no previous study has ever focused on the "English-happiness" linkage. As to the literature on the economics of language, most of the previous studies have discussed the economic returns of English proficiency (Angrist et al., 2008;Azam et al., 2013;Van Tubergen & Kalmijn, 2005, 2009b, and the influence of such language skills on other important socio-economic factors, such as career success and personal accomplishment, and on happiness is not adequately discussed with sufficient empirical work. ...
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This study, using databases from the AsiaBarometer Surveys 2006 and 2007, empirically investigates whether and how English proficiency and happiness are linked in 14 East and Southeast Asian countries or regions. Based on the large-scale dataset of 14,811 respondents, we conducted hierarchical regression analyses and found that: (i) English proficiency is positively associated with happiness; (ii) the focal relationship is partly mediated by income and leisure satisfaction; and (iii) the focal relationship is negatively moderated by the national economy. These findings show the instrumentality of English learning in a globalized world and enrich our understanding about the influence factors of happiness, and contribute to the literature on English proficiency and happiness as well.
... For example, a series of studies have shown that an average level of education in cities was positively related to a city-average SWB, whereas the association between education and happiness at the individual level was negligible (Florida et al. 2013). Similarly, national IQ was shown to positively predict the happiness of nations, whereas between-individual differences in intelligence are not a robust predictor of individuals' SWB (Veenhoven and Choi 2012). Taken together, these results suggest that some individual characteristics do not affect SWB directly, but only when aggregated at a higher level (city, region, country), probably via shaping societal living conditions and cultural climates. ...
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