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Why We're All Wrong About Intelligence

From a very young age, we're taught that intelligent people do well in school, get good jobs, and make more money. While this might be true, we ought to ask ourselves - do people who posses this definition of intelligence really live a better life?

We often associate intelligence with a person's ability to solve complex problems in the realm of school and business. To which I ask: is the problem of how to live a life of unconditional love, joy, and fulfillment not the ultimate challenge we ought to solve?

When and why did a person's measure of intelligence start and stop in the classroom and the boardroom? What about the most important realm of all - life?

Let's look at a few simple, yet powerful examples of people who are intelligent by society's standards, yet not so smart where it actually matters.

Peter is a young boy in his early teens, so pressured by his family to get straight As that he's scared of the consequences if he doesn't. With so much pressure and a capable mind, he actually pulls it off - he consistently gets perfect marks, albeit with great difficulty. But, that's only part of the picture. Despite his strong performance in school, Peter is on the brink of suicide.

He's able to use his intelligence to navigate the results in his report card, yet driven to take his own life because he can't handle the pressure. How tragic is it that we emphasize - and therefore teach - performance in the outside world, while completely neglecting our inner worlds. How can we say Peter is more intelligent than another boy who has an average report card, yet navigates boyhood and all its challenges with a smile on his face?

How about Samantha, a young woman who gets accepted to all ivy league schools, but also whom society tells needs a thousand beauty products in order to be loved. As someone who believes this messaging, she spends nearly all of her non-study hours on her appearance, all in hopes to be accepted and never rejected by anyone.

Is Samantha really more intelligent than another young woman who attends night classes at a community college because her parents are absent and her siblings need a caretaker - yet chooses to feel joy in every moment of her life, no matter how difficult her home-life is?

From a very young age, we're given a definition of intelligence which is limited to mathematical, literary, and creative output, but never associated with well-being and how to navigate our inner worlds, which is ultimately what matters most.

You tell me, how is it intelligent to complain about things that aren't in our control? How is it intelligent to let someone else's opinion sabotage our own happiness? How is it intelligent to limit our growth because we're scared of being rejected? How is it intelligent to hold onto grudges?

I don't care how capable we are in solving a complex business problem, if something as simple as the weather can ruin our day. Don't you think we ought to be applying our intelligence to figuring out why this is so?

What intelligence should look like

Intelligence should be learning how to gracefully harmonize with life, no matter what it throws at us.

Intelligence should be learning how to love ourselves so that we are free from the need for other peoples' validation.

Intelligence should be learning how to free ourselves from the shackles of our minds so that we can fully experience the never-ending present moment, also known as life.

True intelligence is not found in a book. How could you possible say that a rocket scientist making $500,000 a year, with a picture-perfect family, but who also cannot accept her past, lives in a constant state of stress and anxiety, and who comes home every day to yell at her spouse and kids - is acting intelligently?

To me, it sounds pretty dumb to be so well equipped with everything on the outside, yet have no understanding of how to appreciate it on the inside.

So that's my challenge to you, and to myself

Let's reframe our concept of intelligence, and realize that we can work with our own ability to experience more joy. Our true intelligence is malleable, and ever-expanding if we choose to make it so. We just have to learn to apply it in the right areas.

It's pretty unintelligent to have things, to know how to do things, and yet not have a clue of how to appreciate and experience those things.

I'm not poo poo-ing book-smarts or anyone's ability to use their mind to solve complex problems. That's wonderful. I'm simply asking - is the ability to be unconditionally happy not the most important problem we could ever solve? And if so, why aren't we applying our intelligence to that? Surely, we're all capable of this.

Live with substance!

Gabe Orlowitz

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