Emotional Intelligence

Can being happy make you smarter?
Answered by Susan Sherwood and Discovery Channel
  • Susan Sherwood

    Susan Sherwood

  • Discovery Channel

    Discovery Channel

  1. Smarter? It depends what "smarter" means. Are feelings of well-being going to raise your IQ scores? Probably not, but there is some evidence that general mental abilities are enhanced (at least temporarily) if you put on a happy face. Let’s examine several studies over the last 40 years.

    Isen and Means investigated the effect of good feelings on making decisions. When presented with a choice of six imaginary cars, participants who had received positive feedback made the same decisions as those who didn't. However, the happier people analyzed the data and came to their conclusions faster. They considered the information, did not re-evaluate it and ignored irrelevant facts. After setting specific decision-making criteria, the happier people quickly dismissed choices that did not match their standards.

    You might also have better memory when happy, too. According research by Isen, Shalker, Clark and Karp, students who were successful at a computer game (and thus in a pleasant mood) performed better on a memory test than students who lost at the game.

    The same researchers also determined that evaluative skills are affected by mood. Shoppers given a complimentary gift at a mall were more positive when assessing the reliability of their personal consumer goods. (Recipients were not more accurate, just more generous with praise.)

    Judgment can also be affected by mood. Participants who felt happy during a study conducted by Aspinwall and Richter were more likely to recognize the futility of impossible tasks. When presented with anagrams (some unsolvable), the happier people were not better at succeeding; they were just quicker to comprehend the dilemma. The cheerier folks were faster at recognizing, and ignoring, the unsolvable problems and spending more time working on the reasonable puzzles.

    Concentration can be enhanced by happiness too, according to a study by Herbert Bless and Assoc. When listening to a story, happy participants were able to successfully complete an unrelated task more often than morose participants, who struggled between listening and completing the task.

    When you add it all up, "dumb, fat and happy" is not an accurate stereotype. Happiness does not lead to slothful, mindless or imprudent behavior. It is not clear yet, however, how long the effects of happiness last. Many of the studies were done not with people who had self-reported continuous states of happiness but with participants whose cheerful feelings had been temporarily stimulated.

    More answers from Susan Sherwood »

  2. Although smarter people are not necessarily happier than others, being happy could actually make people smarter. According to neurological studies, happy people use broader thinking and more creativity to solve problems. Plus, happier people tend to live longer, since they have fewer stress-related diseases.

    More answers from Discovery Channel »

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