The downsides to being extremely beautiful, intelligent or wealthy might make you grateful you’re just Joe or Jane Average.
Have you noticed that some people seem to lead lives more charmed than the rest of us? If you take a closer look at those reaping the lion’s share of life’s temporal goodies, you’ll notice they’re either much better looking, much smarter, or much wealthier than you.
There’s the über hot Hollywood A-lister, or your model friend whose company automatically renders you invisible to the opposite sex. There’s the multi-talented, brainy whiz kid at work who not only got the promotion you wanted, but has also written a book, designed a game-changing app, and been nominated for the Nobel prize. And there are the Bill Gates and Warren Buffets of the world, or perhaps your cousins who only travel first class and drop tips so big, you feel like a schmuck for leaving the waitress only a fiver. These are the types of people we normies love to hate, but long to be.
Virtues like kindness, patience, honesty, fortitude etcetera, etcetera, are all well and good to have of course, but when it comes to traits that give one a leg-up in the world, few things beat beauty, intellect, and a talent for making vast amounts of money.
More than other attributes, these three give their owners very unfair advantages in life. Thankfully for us, their gifts come with in-built booby traps that have great potential to throw their lives completely out of whack. So, if you aren’t drop-dead gorgeous, a genius, or Jeff Bezos, go ahead and indulge in a little schadenfreude. You might find some peace knowing that those who are so blessed are also often cursed.
Contrary to the old adage “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, social scientists offer proof that beauty is in fact determined by a set of specific physical characteristics. More than seventy years of research has shown that what’s deemed conventionally beautiful is not a matter of individual or cultural preference, but us humans having a positive biological response to symmetry (how balanced and proportionate a person’s physique and facial features are), youthfulness (wrinkle-free skin, big eyes, full head of hair etcetera)which is perceived as a sign of good health and superior reproductive prowess, and average-ness (a person’s nose, ear, eyes and other parts being neither too big, nor too small, but middling).
Much has been written about the benefits of being conventionally beautiful — more dates, more career success, people being more willing to do things for the beautiful, increased confidence and assertiveness, and even better health for example — but (phew) you’ll be relieved to know that there are drawbacks to being too hot too.
The beautiful are overly preoccupied with maintaining their looks
In other words, they’re vain. Beautiful people know that their good looks set them apart from others because when they are go out and see everyone else, the contrast is undeniable. Because of this, their physical attractiveness becomes a big part of their identity and self-worth, and they have to constantly think about, and work on their appearance in order to maintain a stable sense of self. They may want you to think they eat burgers twice a week and hardly go to the gym, but that’s BS, they’re just afraid you’ll sniff out how vain they really are. People who are ridiculously good looking often work really hard to look that way. I once did an interview with a plastic surgeon for a magazine feature, and he had told me, “Most of my clients are not unattractive people who come to get things fixed, but the really good looking ones. More than half of them were already very attractive before they came in for their first procedure. It’s always the beautiful people who feel they have to keep it up.”
Their talents and virtues are often underdeveloped
In an episode of “30 Rock” aptly titled “The Bubble”, Jon Hamm plays Drew, an incredibly handsome doctor who is completely incompetent (he can’t even perform the Heimlich maneuver) but somehow manages to wing it and cruise through medical school and life thanks to his good looks. Because of the halo effect, beautiful people are more quickly forgiven for bad behavior, and their shoddy performance at work is more easily excused. According to a Cornell study, better-looking criminals even get off with lighter sentences. “Unattractive defendants tend to get hit with longer, harsher sentences — on average 22 months longer in prison,” reports the Cornell Chronicle. People often find it hard to say no to eye candy. They tend to be extra polite and treat them like kings and queens, constantly heaping praise upon everything they do. This can make them complacent about improving themselves intellectually, interpersonally, or professionally; deluded about their competence levels, and blind to own personalities flaws. The results are stunted psychosocial development, and a less than well-rounded personality.
They don’t have as many close friends as normies, and their romantic relationships are less stable
Being beautiful is lonely. On the streets and in public places, more eyes fall on the hottie, but a study by social psychologists Lisa Slattery Walker and Tonya Frevert showed that people tend to distance themselves from attractive strangers because they find them intimidating. “Attractiveness can convey more power over visible space — but that in turn can make others feel they can’t approach that person,” wrote the authors. Research from the online dating website OKCupid even reported that people with the most flawlessly beautiful profile pictures were less likely to find dates that those with quirky and less than perfect photos. Between those of the same sex, intimidation translates to jealousy, which is why it’s not uncommon to hear babes complain they don’t have any “real” female friends. They’re so hot that normie girls don’t want to be upstaged by them. Romantic relationships and marriages can also be trickier to navigate for the hot one. If a beautiful person marries someone less attractive, they might wonder if they’ve settled for less, or if they could do better, which does not a happy union make. Often, the hot one has some awareness that their superior physicality is social currency, and this might lead to a sense of entitlement within the relationship — for example, the pretty young gold digger who believes her rich, but dumpy, elderly boyfriend owes her a free ride.
Studies have shown that IQ is fixed at a young age, so according to Forbeswriter Travis Bradberry, “you’re stuck with what you’ve got”. But intellect isn’t just about being book smart, scientifically or mathematically inclined, or creative. “Intelligence, or IQ, isn’t what you know, but rather the pace at which you acquire new information,” explains Bradberry. According to cognitive psychologists, one aspect of high intelligence is a “broader and deeper capacity to comprehend [one’] surroundings.” This means that over the course of their lives, those born with high IQs can learn many new skills, and retain, process, and apply new information to their work and life much better than you, which in turn puts them in a better position to achieve greatness than you.
Not only does the intelligent one have a better shot at worldly success, chances are they’re also a lot funnier than you. According to Newsweek, researchers in Austria found that people with a sense of humor, especially a dark sense of humor, often have higher IQs than their less funny peers. They attributed this to the higher levels of cognitive and emotional ability in intelligent people, which allows them to comprehend and produce humor. The article also suggested that humor increases success and social status, which means everyone likes and respects your egghead friend more than you. You’ll be glad to know that egghead pays a high price for having this wonderful superpower!
The intelligent suffer more from mental illness and physical ailments
Those with high IQs are more likely to suffer from mental disorders such as autism, bipolar disorder, anxiety, ADHD and depression –“happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know,” wrote Ernest Hemmingway who blew his magnificent brains out with a shotgun. As if being insane is not problematic enough, they also suffer from allergies, asthma and immune disorders. A survey of 3,715 members of the American Mensa Society found that highly intelligent people are “20% more likely to be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), 80% more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD, 83% more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety, and 182% more likely to develop at least one mood disorder” and “213% more likely to have environmental allergies (achoo!), 108% more likely to have asthma, and 84% more likely to have an autoimmune disease.”
Their social interactions are often imbalanced and unrewarding
If you’re a hairdresser, a personal trainer, or a middle manager having dinner with the world’s most lauded and sought after nuclear scientist, would you ask them, “So what was your workday like? Tell me what you did? What were some of the challenges you faced?” That’s seldom how conversations unfold between normies and super smart people. Most normies are afraid to ask the intelligent one about their day because they might not understand the response they receive. “Today I combined plulaimeon with diatronatiodide to create a non-fissioning isotope that will escalate the cooling of the baterbarium reactor core”. “Huh?” Afraid of looking stupid in the presence of intellectual giants, normies often avoid topics relevant to the intelligent one’s field of work and instead converse on subjects that relate to themselves — perms and extensions, dumbbells and exercise bands, and compliance and regulation — which of course will bore the crap out of the one with more gray matter. It doesn’t help that egghead is the better listener in the social group. Research by The Gifted Development Center found that 60% of gifted children, and 75% of highly gifted children are introverts, which means they grow up to be quieter and more reserved than their extroverted peers. Because of this, at parties and socials, the smart one often has to endure a barrage of opinions from those who are dumber than them but won’t shut up. Many normies also put geniuses on a pedestal, so they are often denied truly intimate and honest interactions with their fellows. The intelligent one is viewed by most as either as an oracle, a consultant, or a problem solver, but seldom a friend and equal.
They have fewer friends, and are at higher risk of being lifelong virgins
My earlier point leads quite logically to this next one, but there’s more. According to a study by the British Journal of Psychology, people with very high intelligence levels reported greater levels of happiness when they spend time alone, and report feeling less happy when spending time with friends. Hence they have fewer friends than normies. Carol Graham, a Brookings Institution researcher Carol Graham who studies the economics of happiness believes that these findings “suggest that those with more intelligence and the capacity to use it … are less likely to spend so much time socializing because they are focused on some other longer term objective.” Another reason why intellectuals are more antisocial could be because they are more skeptical of others, can see faults in others more clearly, and would rather not get sucked into other people’s dramas. “I have found little that is ‘good’ about human beings on the whole. In my experience most of them are trash, no matter whether they publicly subscribe to this or that ethical doctrine or to none at all,” Sigmund Freud misanthropically declared. Besides having fewer friends, the owners of some of the world’s greatest minds even avoided romance and sex. Isaac Newton who discovered gravity, Queen Elizabeth I who united England, and Nikola Tesla who invented electricity were all allegedly virgins when they died.
A Knack for Wealth Creation
Notice that the gift here isn’t “being rich” but having a knack for creating, attracting, managing, and growing money. That’s because the two are very different. One can be rich as a trust fund kid or after winning the lottery, but in such cases the gift doesn’t actually belong to the person and is therefore not innate. The gift in question is the ability to make a lot of money. I’m referring to those CEOs, entrepreneurs, investors, inventors, and financiers who know how to turn straw into gold.
A person who can make money gets access to more arenas of life. Money opens doors. Money can buy you things, experiences, and favors. It can buy you freedom from the rat race, a more pleasurable and glamorous life, it increases your mobility and social status, and it allows you to feel a little more secure about your health, and the material wellbeing of your family. What an amazing gift to have! Unfortunately once a person crosses the threshold from of “above-medium-income” to private jet, luxury estates, superyacht and diamond tiara rich, things can quickly go south. Here are just some of the ugly truths that the super rich have to wrestle with.
The wealthy can become enslaved by their ambitions
Generators of great wealth are often clever, resourceful, disciplined, focused, and very hard working. They have long-term goals and are tenacious and persistent when it comes to achieving them. They suffer from a certain madness when it comes to turning their ideas and plans into hard, cold, cash. Many devote more than half their lifetime to tasks aimed at increasing wealth, so by default they are workaholics. This means sacrificing time with family and enjoyable hobbies in order to make earnings their priority, which can lead to poor work life balance, and regrets in later years.
They get addicted to money and are at greater risk of becoming comfortably numb
Luxuries are easy to get used to and difficult to give up. One you’ve gotten used to a chauffeur, walking to the office can suddenly feel like a real drudge. As mansions get larger and sports cars get faster, the rich person’s cost of living also increases, and they’ll need to become even richer to maintain the lifestyle they’re accustomed to. Carol Philo, former president of Mensa had poor parents who suddenly became millionaires after their printing business took off, but she recalls that her mother soon became addicted to the money. “Nothing was ever enough,” Philo, whose family soon disintegrated because of their newfound wealth, said. “Having seen the entire gauntlet, I would say that getting comfortable is worth it. Getting rich is not.” Murat Morrison, a man who came into wealth after selling his trucking company in the late ‘90s says he’s learnt that while money buys a more cushy life, “comfort is not happiness or satisfaction.” He said he felt “as empty as a drum for the next few years. While it is good to be comfortable, it is more satisfying to be happy.”
They are distrustful of family and friends
When you’re wealthy, you might find yourself being more distrustful of relatives and friends, because people are always asking you for a loan, a handout, an introduction to an influential contact, or an “in” on a lucrative deal. “Most people now want something out of you, and it can be harder to figure out whether someone is being nice to you because they like you, or they are being nice to you because of your money,” said one anonymous respondent in a BBC Worklife interview. “If you aren’t married, it is difficult to figure out whether your significant other is into you or your wealth,” says Quora user Alex Coppen. Most regular folks people don’t worry about prenups!
They are not well liked
“Rich people have small hearts” wrote Indian poet and author Avijeet Das. Ouch! “Rich men have dreams. Poor men die to make them come true,” wrote author Glen Cook. “Fuck corporate greed!” we normies yell. These are things that most non-rich people — that’s 99 percent of the world — feel about rich people, so if you’re planning on rolling in the mega bucks anytime soon, be prepared to be a sitting duck for the hate of all the struggling, disgruntled people of the world.
Now that you know how these three gifts can also be impediments, perhaps you can finally kick back, relax, and enjoy being your very average self.
Michele is the author of “Without: Stories of lack and longing”