Another excerpt from "Curse of the High IQ!"
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs basically states that in order to advance as a human there is an order in which you do it. Certain needs cannot be satisfied until those under it are taken care of, thus a “hierarchy of needs.” So you can’t be pursuing your doctorate in finance if you don’t have food on the table, just as you can’t think about asking Suzy Q on a date if your position is about to be overrun by Al-Qaeda terrorists.
However, whereas Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs primarily focuses on advancement and self-improvement, it can also be viewed in terms of the severity of problems you face in life. And it is through this lens we can start to understand the problems facing abnormally intelligent people.
To be bluntly honest, “mental illness” really is a “First World Problem.” They don’t have things such as “bipolar” or “social anxiety disorder” or “affluenza” in Pakistan. Your average Ecuadorian does not refer to the village psychologist as “her psychologist” like an American soccer mom who has “her psychologist” on speed dial. And the average kid in Turkey does not suffer from “ADD” or “ADHD.” They have infinitely more pressing matters such as poverty, terrorism, death, and disease on their minds.
This isn’t to belittle the mental problems people suffer (first world or not), but it is to highlight where people focus the majority of their mental facilities depending on where they are in the hierarchy. It is also to point out that the biggest problems people face in their life is determined by where they are in Maslow’s Hierarchy, not how their problems rank in the world.
For example consider two men.
There is a soldier whose wife just sent him a “Dear John” letter, telling him she’s divorcing him and taking the kids. He has also been informed by the bank that his mortgage has not been paid and is going to be foreclosed upon. He can’t do anything as he’s in Iraq and on patrol, when suddenly he is captured by ISIS.
The second man is a retired surgeon. He ran a successful practice for 40 years, has $20 million in the bank, saved many lives, and through hard work has afforded himself every luxury life could offer. He has visited every country he ever wanted, done everything he’s ever wanted to do, ate everything he wanted to eat, and now sits there at his Floridian mansion depressed because there really is nothing left to do. His friends are all dead or living in other parts of the country. His wife passed away. And he awkwardly tries to spark conversation with the landscapers who come in weekly to tend his estate, too embarrassed to ask if they’d like to get a beer.
Who has it worse?
Obviously, the poor solider captured by ISIS does. He could die at any moment, and certainly be tortured along the way.
But whose problem is solvable?
Soon, a SEAL team bursts in, takes out all the ISIS members and rescues the poor soldier. Meanwhile, back in Florida the doctor tries to invite the landscaper to a beer, but he doesn’t speak English, so the doctor goes back to pour himself another scotch to avoid his loneliness.
But the real question is who’s happier?
The poor soldier, despite having horrendous problems at home and still being WAY below the doctor on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is ECSTATIC because the immediate problem he was facing (survival) was solved. He’s not going to die. He won’t be tortured. He can now move on to solve whatever problems he faces at home.
The doctor, despite having all the luxuries the world can afford is alone, has no mental stimulation, and is depressed. The problem he faces is there are no problems to face anymore, and because of the ennui he pulls out a gun and kills himself.