Why Smart People Fail to Be Happy

A list of the 5 most common themes for self-analysis and growth

Niklas Göke


Photo by Magnet.me on Unsplash

“If you’re so smart, how come you aren’t happy?”

That’s Naval Ravikant’s challenge¹ to everyone bathing in the misery of their own intelligence. “Happiness is a choice,” he says; something you can work on, like your fitness, nutrition, or career.

Naval knows it’s a choice because he too had to make it for himself: “I was born poor and miserable, and I’m now pretty well off and very happy — and I worked at those.”

Naval also knows that’s an unpopular statement to make for two reasons:

  1. Some people are depressed at a molecular level and thus have a real, biological disadvantage.
  2. Some people don’t believe it’s possible to learn to be happy, and they don’t like being made responsible for it.

About 10% of the world’s population suffer from a mental health disorder of any kind.² That means for every one unhappy person with a chemical imbalance, there are nine who refuse to accept what science has proven countless times:³ You can learn to be happy — especially if you’re smart.

Thankfully, many of those smart and happy people have researched and compiled the most common obstacles to our fulfillment over the years. While there are many individual reasons, most of them can be aggregated into a few recurring themes.

The following is a fairly complete if not perfect list of those themes. Don’t use it as a set of welcome excuses; use it as a tool for self-analysis and growth. There’s also a list of (re)sources at the end.

Here are the 5 most common reasons why smart people fail to be happy — and what they can do about it.

1. They overthink

Overthinking comes in endless flavors, but the three most common ones might be ruminating on the past, worrying about the future, and obsessing over solutions to present-day problems.

Dwelling on regrets is an attempt to mellow our fear of more regrets, which, of course, never works. When we’re anxious about the future, we hope to reduce uncertainty, which is impossible. And when we cycle through endless ideas on how to advance…



Niklas Göke

I write for dreamers, doers, and unbroken optimists. Read my daily blog here: https://nik.art/