Emotional Health

Intelligence: What Does it Mean to be, Like, Really Smart

7. They are perceptive.

Again, the “quirky genius” defies this, but most smart people are highly perceptive. They see the forest through the trees, and then some. They often pick up on subtle cues and see connections that others miss.

8. They have the ability to focus and concentrate.

This is a characteristic that intelligent people share with their quirky fellow smarties. It is also a trait that gifted children often exhibit. These kids often develop a single interest that they pursue in great depth. This can happen at an early age, and come out of the blue. For example, a  child, at age four, was taken to a large special exhibit of Egyptian artifacts. Her mother expected her to last a half an hour, but thought she might find the mummies “cool.” Instead, she insisted they see every item, staying two  hours, and subsequently became fascinated by Egyptology. She  created an imaginary companion that she called “King Ramses.”

9. They are good communicators.

If you are very intelligent, it is likely that you express your thoughts well and even brilliantly, as in the case of Sir Winston Churchill. As Prime Minister of Great Britain he led his country to victory against terrible odds. His inspiring speeches are without parallel. He also won the Nobel Prize in Literature.

10. They have a sense of humor.

Smart people are usually witty. They can make jokes off the cuff, often enjoy puns, and are generally highly aware of the absurd.

11. They have good memories.

Here I do not mean a “photographic memory,” although some have that, but a general ability to store and remember a lot of information. While everyone’s memory deteriorates as they age, at their peak bright people often retain information better than the rest of us. (See: Jeopardy).

The smartest person I have ever known displayed all these characteristics well into his late seventies when he died. He had always been an avid reader of literature (Proust was a favorite), but also seamlessly kept up with technology and popular culture. He was a great storyteller, and could keep a roomful of people entertained with funny stories from his past, yet he rarely repeated himself. At the same time, he was curious about others. He was always asking questions, trying to learn something new or scoping out someone area of interest. He seemed to absorb information effortlessly, and put ideas together in creative ways. This, combined with energy and drive, propelled him to success both creatively and in business. He was not inclined to rest on his laurels, though, and was actively working on creative projects until the end.

While this is not a complete list, these strike me as some of the traits that almost all intelligent people exhibit. James Fallows, writing in The Atlantic, cited one trait they don’t have. He said last week that very intelligent people rarely talk about how smart they are. They are aware of it, but a recognize it as a gift, one that must be cultivated. And besides, they are too busy asking questions and learning new things.

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