Health

Why Smart People Love Spending Time Alone

Published On 02/03/2017 Published On 02/03/2017
smart people alone time
Evan Lockhart/Thrillist

It can sometimes feel isolating being an introvert; after all, sitting at home alone, although relaxing, can lead to a sense of FOMO and a feeling of social exclusion. 

Turns out, being an introvert has its own set of perks: stronger relationships, more energy, getting shit done. And since introverts must have their "me time," being smarter can be added to the list of positive introvert attributes. 

That's according to a somewhat counterintuitive aspect of the "savanna theory of happiness," an idea expanded upon in the British Journal of Psychology. The study found that people in more secluded areas (rural areas and small towns) were happier with their lives than those who lived in denser populations. If you've ever been on a crowded subway jammed under someone's armpit in the middle of summer, this theory makes sense. 

It also found that the more social interactions someone has with friends, the happier and overall more satisfied with their life they are... except for one major exception. Highly intelligent people were actually found to have the opposite correlation. As in, they experienced more happiness with fewer social interactions. When these brainiacs are forced to spend time with others, even if it's with friends, it doesn't bring them as much life satisfaction as it does to less-intelligent folks.

Our hunter-gatherer ancestors needed companionship to survive

Sure, our Paleo ancestors ate mostly plants, some meat, and other natural, unrefined foods, and did CrossFit. But how did they socialize? Looking into how the hunter-gatherers associated may hold the keys to understanding how people interact today -- and why smarter people may be better off alone.

The savanna theory follows logic that makes some sense: Our ancestors were used to traveling vast spaces in tight-knit groups, so modern humans in high-density areas, like cities, are generally less happy than their suburban and rural counterparts. Close social interaction, the theory continues, is another component of happiness; collaborating on how to bring down that wildebeest brought happiness to prehistoric humans because, hey, they got to eat!

"Spending time with friends is a very natural activity that was likely necessary for survival over millions of years," Dr. Norman Li, associate professor of psychology at Singapore Management University and co-author of the study, said in an email. 

Today those feel-good vibes around socialization persist, giving happy hour its signature adjective. Except, again, in super-smart people. But why? 

"High general intelligence might allow people to better handle new things that humans only recently are encountering, such as managing one's life using computers, smartphones, etc., and not needing (for survival purposes) to associate with friends on a daily basis," he posited. "So, it's more like high intelligence might allow people to more comfortably live outside of natural conditions."

It's a question of adaptation, in other words; in a modern, technology-driven world that relies less on person-to-person contact, more intelligent people might find themselves better able to cope, and are therefore less happy when faced with their savanna-dwelling ancestors' habits. 

Don't worry, extroverts can still be smart, too

This isn't to say that social butterflies are always on the dumber end of the spectrum; as with most theories of intelligence and personality, it's not a one-size-fits-all approach. 

"While our findings suggest that on average, less-intelligent people enjoy spending time with friends more than more intelligent people do, it doesn't mean that this applies to everyone or that the reverse has to be true, because many things could be leading people to enjoy their friends' company," Dr Li said. "So, enjoying spending time with friends does not necessarily mean that a person is less intelligent than someone who does not enjoy it!"

Don't go questioning your intelligence just yet if you actually prefer to be around other people. But if you're someone who genuinely enjoys alone time, and find yourself happiest when you're all by yourself, that doesn't mean you're a weirdo. In fact, it probably means you're way smarter than all the normals you're forced to interact with on a day-to-day basis.

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Christina Stiehl is a Health and fitness staff writer for Thrillist. She loves hanging out with herself (she's a great time). Follow her on Twitter @ChristinaStiehl.

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