“Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.”
― Ernest Hemingway
I totally get what Hemingway is saying here. I’ve seen this very thing in myself and others.
In my life, I often think how much easier life would be if I was a less-aware, less-thinking, and more simple-minded person.
Sad but true.
I consider myself an intelligent person, but my version of intelligence may be different from yours.
You see, I equate intelligence to awareness, truth-seeking, and an ability to be constantly learning. Being able to admit when one is wrong is also a huge sign of intelligence and self-awareness in my book.
I think the majority of intelligent people possess these, or closely related, qualities. And it’s these qualities that are often the bane of intelligent people. I think this is what Hemingway was referring to.
In my experience, the more you know about life, people and the world, the more difficult it can be to find happiness. The more you understand about it all, the harder it is to convince yourself that all the things you want in life will someday, somehow, make you happy.
You start seeing life as the hard, cold, cruel place that it is. You realize that external possessions and achievement are hollow, and ultimately, won’t provide you the fulfillment you are looking for. You don’t fool yourself into thinking that once you make X dollars or achieve X things that you’ll just wake up happy. What’s weird about this is you keep going after it all in lieu of this understanding.
When you start realizing these things (it’s a process), life starts looking different. And this is why I think ignorance really is bliss.
When I think on these topics, I often think that people who are “unaware” of these concepts have it easier. I don’t know. Maybe they are searching for answers in their own ways in the form of consumerism, drugs, etc. Whatever. That's life, I guess. To each his own.
The thing is, almost paradoxically, I still believe the seeking of truth is a noble, albeit harsh, pursuit. When the monk, who spent 20 years on a mountain somewhere, reaches “emptiness” or “nirvana” like Buddha did, he realizes that he has no control over anything and that everything is nothing. It’s a very fatalistic realization, which of course, he has no “feeling” towards.
Monk or not, that's gotta be rough.
The same is true of life: We seek the end-goal only to realize that there isn’t actually an end-goal at all and that nothing really matters. And we still keep seeking.
This is just what humans do. We are always seeking because seeking is programmed into our DNA. It’s the drive that compels us to love, procreate, and raise offspring to further the human species.
In my experience, the more I understand about people, life, philosophy, psychology, etc., the harder it becomes to find happiness in life.
When you realize that we all are just animals that do stuff because our biology— which we have no control over—makes us, you start wanting answers to questions like, “What’s the freaking point?”
This can be rough, but as Maslow tells us, it’s necessary.
What I’ve come to realize, through thinking and writing and struggling with these topics in my own life, is you have to make the choice to enjoy the journey and express gratitude along the way. And, you have to spend as much freaking time as possible with those you love.
You can be happy with little or miserable with everything. It comes down to the choices you make.
You choose to look at life this way or that. You make the choice to attribute purpose to your life, like raising a family, creating art, helping others, etc.
You choose to focus on the fact that nothing really matters in the grand scheme of the universe (it doesn’t) and be miserable. You choose to focus on what's wrong instead of what’s right.
It's all choice.
We all have a purpose in life, we just have to find it. Of course, this can be really hard.
Let’s rap a bit more…
A few days ago, when I was working on my first novel (how cliche, I know), I had a mini-epiphany. The main character—Lance—goes through an existential crisis when he is diagnosed with a rare, degenerative disease after waking up unable to open his left hand. Two months before, Lance was a struggling writer who finally hit it big with his 2nd novel and was sailing high with his new-found literary fame.
After running tests, the doctor tells him that he has about a year to live—maybe more, maybe less. The doctor says his condition is rare and that there is no cure. In the following chapters, Lance starts searching to find meaning for his life and so he pours through science, history, philosophy, and psychology books in search of answers.
Of course, this character, and his pursuit of knowledge and answers, closely reflects what I've gone through in my life. I wasn’t trying to do this, but I ended up writing out the things I have been struggling with in my life. From what I’ve read from other writers, this is common.
Back to my mini-epiphany.
So as I'm writing, I start visualizing myself in Lance's shoes with less than a year to live. In doing so, I ask myself this question: “What are the most enjoyable times of your life?”
My answer was easy. It's this: Spending time with friends and family and loving, laughing, and going on adventures.
I realized that, hands down, nothing else in life comes close. In fact, everything I do, whether it be travel, adventure, playing games, hanging out at the beach, whatever, I tend to only truly enjoy it if I do it with someone I care about.
For me, people are a prerequisite for enjoying life.
Maybe this isn’t the case for you or everyone, but for me, it's a no brainer. Everything I have and want to do in life is only as good as my ability to share it with those I care about.
I think I've always kinda "known" this, but thinking about it clearly and specifically felt powerful… and new. Sometimes clarity is huge.
Then I thought about kids—which I don’t have, but want—and I realized that I will probably feel this way even more so when I have some of my own.
To bring this back around, if you were to ask me: “What is the point of life?” I would easily answer with: It’s love… and to do everything you can to get and give as much of it as possible.
Sure, that sounds corny, but that’s it nonetheless.
Keep in mind, I’m not talking about gushy, I love you, you love me, we are “in love” type of love (although that’s great too). When I say love, I’m referring to the people around me that make me feel good and that I want to spend as much time as possible with. This can be friends, family, mentors, and sometimes, total strangers.
The purpose of life is to love and be loved.
So, back to Hemingway’s quote about happiness in intelligent people.
Knowing a lot about the world, genetics, anthropology, biology, evolution, psychology, and philosophy, does not make it any easier to be happy. But knowing that all and realizing that none of it really matters other than how it can help explain the thing that really matters in life, which is love.
It all comes back to this simple thing. Just four letters. One word.
And so, when I pursue money or accomplishment, I’m really just pursuing love. This is why I have zero qualms about and will never apologize for my ambition. In fact, I view money ambition as the greatest pursuit in the world because of the opportunity it provides me to focus on love.
Now, I don't want to go into a long rant on money, but I will say this: No matter how you feel about money and success, the fact is that money buys time. And time is what buys you enjoyment with those you love. Money also buys you adventure and new experiences to find more people to love. And if you are a caring, giving and honest person, money is better in your hands than many others.
The thing to all of this is, this is what we all do even though many of us don't realize it. We pursue love when we pursue most things in life. (Recommended reading: The Art of Loving by Eric Fromm.)
I guess my point is, happiness is right in front of us. We just have to have the “intelligence” to see it... and grasp it.