“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
That’s a quote that is usually attributed to Albert Einstein, although there is no evidence he actually said it.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t some truth to it.
After all, not everyone gets the same nurturing and encouragement in life.
Growing up, I had lots of friends who didn’t do well in school and were never considered intelligent by their families, but were some of the smartest people I ever met.
Turns out, we don’t always have a good idea of our intelligence. Most often, that leads people to overestimate their own smarts, but it can also go the other way.
It’s quite possible that you are smarter than you realize. And if so, there are some telltale signs that can give away your intelligence, even if you don’t believe in it yourself.
Let’s examine some signs that you are smarter than you think.
1) You know that you don’t know
“The wise man knows himself to be a fool,” William Shakespeare wrote, and there’s real truth in that line.
Let’s take a look at one of the most famous studies on people’s perception of their own intelligence, this study by Dunning and Kruger. Published in 1999, the study found that people with a limited grasp of a complex subject will often tend to overestimate their own understanding.
On the other hand, the study also found that as people’s grasp of a topic grew, this self-assessment of how much they knew about it actually decreased.
To put it simply, that means that the more people learned about a subject, the more they realized there was to know.
It’s an unfortunate fact of life that people who aren’t particularly bright tend to think that they are. Often, they become know-it-alls who can’t keep from sharing their opinion with everyone around them, whether they are asked for it or not.
Chances are good you know someone like this yourself.
If, on the other hand, you are aware that there’s so much you don’t know, chances are good you are actually quite intelligent. It’s a paradox, but it’s one that’s backed up by real science.
2) You learned to read early
In many ways, reading is like a hack to boost your intelligence.
After all, there’s a reason why some of the world’s most successful people are known as voracious readers.
But it turns out it’s not just about how much you read, but how early you learn to read, too.
This study, published in 2014, examined nearly 2000 sets of identical twins and found that the twin who learned to read first performed better on tests of intelligence in later life.
Is that because smart people find it easier to learn to read, or because reading actually makes you smarter? That isn’t clear.
But if you learned to read younger than most people do, it’s a good sign you may have higher-than-average intelligence.
3) You worry about the future
Worrying excessively about the future can be a sign of several psychological disorders, from anxiety to OCD.
On the other hand, thinking about the future can be a sign of high intelligence.
Several studies have demonstrated that people with high anxiety levels also do better at cognitive and reasoning tests.
The trouble is, a powerful mind needs something to focus on. As psychologist Edward Selby points out, it makes sense to think about the future and plan for unforeseen events. But once you’ve made your plans, you need to find something else to think about before prudent planning turns into harmful rumination.
4) You have a good sense of humor
Here’s the good news: being smart isn’t all about worrying. In fact, your ability to tell a joke may be another demonstration of an advanced intellect.
This study found that funny people scored higher in both verbal and general intelligence.
Even better, it found that funny people are more attractive to others.
A more recent study in Turkey found a similar correlation between humor and intelligence in children.
So if you often find yourself cracking people up with the things you say, it might be because you’re smarter than you think.
5) You’re curious
Do you need to know things? Do you find interesting discoveries all around you?
If so, you might be smarter than you realize.
It’s a well-known fact that the animals that score higher on tests of intelligence tend to be more curious about the world around them. But it seems that’s also true of us humans.
This 2022 study found a strong correlation between the curiosity of children and their intelligence and academic achievement. This study on curiosity and educational attainment backs up those findings.
It makes sense if you think about it.
After all, an intelligent mind needs to keep itself occupied. And being curious helps you to learn more about the world, which can increase your intelligence even further.
So if you are the type of person who always needs to know why things are the way they are, it may be because you are more intelligent than you realize.
6) You stay up late
We’ve all heard advice from successful CEOs and life coaches about getting up before everybody else. However, there’s evidence to suggest that those who stay up late are actually smarter than people who get up earlier.
This study, published in 2009, found that people who stay up late are often more intelligent than those who get to bed early. It may be because intelligent people are less likely to conform to societal norms, and are more likely to keep odd hours if it suits them better.
But whatever the reason, being a night owl may indicate you’re smarter than average.
7) You don’t have to work that hard
Intelligent people don’t always do well in school, or in life. At the same time, being intelligent can often make things easier. That’s especially true of academic pursuits and knowledge-based careers.
What does that mean for you? Well, it means that intelligent people often don’t have to work as hard as everyone around them to achieve the same results.
While that sounds great, it can create problems. It’s easy for gifted children, for example, to learn in school that things come easily to them and never learn how to apply themselves to a difficult problem.
Smart people are adept at finding the best way to do things, which means it often seems like they’re not working as hard as everyone around them.
8) You take care of yourself
Bad news for the chubbier people among us: this study published in 2006 showed that people with a higher BMI, or Body Mass Index, scored lower on cognitive tests.
In other words, fatter people are less intelligent.
Now, don’t make the mistake of thinking that that means everyone with little extra weight is dumber than everyone who is thin. It doesn’t work that way.
However, it does mean that if you take care of yourself, it might be a sign that you are smarter than average.
9) You have a lot of self-control
This next point may be linked to the one above. Because it turns out that smart people tend to have better self-control and self-discipline than others.
This study found that people who were able to wait for a reward for performing a task scored higher on tests of intelligence.
If you’re able to delay gratification and work toward a goal, it might be because you are smart.
10) You are open-minded
Being able to see things from the point of view of other people is a sign of emotional intelligence. But it may also be a sign of intellectual smarts, too.
Staying open-minded means you have the intellectual ability to weigh evidence and consider bias in any source of information you use. And being open-minded allows you to absorb new information more easily, making you seem even more intelligent than you already are.
11) You spend time alone
Not all lone wolves are necessarily geniuses. But studies suggest that highly intelligent people are happier living in less densely populated areas. Also, the highly intelligent are happier when they have fewer friends, which is the opposite of how it works for most people.
It makes sense when you think about it.
If you have a high intellect and a brain that is always busy, you will be much more comfortable in your own company thinking deep thoughts without anyone to distract you.
So if you are a person who thrives in solitude, it might be because you’re smarter than you think.
How smart are you?
It’s true that we don’t always have a good idea of our own intelligence. And while that can lead to overestimating how smart we are, it could also go the other way and make us think we are less intelligent.
If you exhibit these behaviors, it may well be because you’re smarter than the average person.