“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” —Socrates
What is wisdom?
Wisdom is a complex human trait that can be difficult to define. It’s a unique personality trait that has many different components. But more than that, it’s a specific brain state with its own biological and cognitive signature. Studies have shown that wisdom is a balance between the youngest and oldest parts of the brain.
According to Wiser: The Scientific Roots of Wisdom, Compassion and What Makes Us Good by Dr. Dilip Jeste, M.D., where he explores the neurobiology and psychology of wisdom, there are six key components of wisdom.
The 6 Components of Wisdom
- Prosocial behaviors
Prosocial behaviors are social behaviors we do for other people and communities unselfishly. Some examples of compassionate, prosocial behaviors include helping an individual or family in need, volunteering for a cause you care about or taking on a pro bono project.
- Emotional regulation
Emotional regulation involves being able to control your fluctuating emotions. It’s only human to have a strong reaction to a difficult situation. However, people with high levels of wisdom and emotional intelligence are calm and controlled—even in the face of uncertain or uncontrollable situations. Practicing mindfulness is a great way to identify, accept and regulate our emotions.
To improve your personal well-being, it’s important to look inward and try to understand yourself instead of blaming others. As you age, your life experience often results in greater humility and a more positive attitude toward yourself and others. Over time, you learn and understand your own strengths and weaknesses through honest reflection.
- Accepting uncertainty and diversity
Wisdom is characterized by the ability to understand and empathize with other people. You can increase your wisdom by interacting with diverse people who have different experiences, ideas and values than your own. For example, when older and younger generations form meaningful relationships, it results in positive, long-term outcomes for both groups.
Wisdom provides guidance as to what aspects of a decision are truly important. Part of being wise is the ability to assess a situation and be decisive when needed—often by learning from past mistakes. Wise decision-making stems from the culmination of knowledge, experience, understanding and “big-picture” thinking.
Spirituality transcends religion. The benefits of spirituality come from feeling connected to something or someone—whether it’s Mother Nature, your inner soul or God. Spirituality is associated with better mental health and well-being by reducing a person’s feelings of loneliness.
How to Cultivate Wisdom
The good news is that only 50% of wisdom is inherited. Dr. Jeste believes that anyone has the ability to nurture and grow their wisdom through behavior and environment modifications. The first step to increasing your wisdom is to better understand your own limitations and discover areas you can improve. You can use the San Diego Wisdom Scale (SD-WISE) to assess your wisdom on a scale from 1 to 5.
Once you’re able to acknowledge and understand your own weaknesses, you can take steps to self-correct your behavior. For example, if you discover that you only spend time with people who think like you, you’re dramatically limiting your potential to grow. To foster wisdom, you need to make a conscious effort to surround yourself with diverse perspectives. Remember, wisdom isn’t about what you think—it’s about how you think.
Wiser: The Scientific Roots of Wisdom, Compassion, and What Makes Us Good by Dr. Dilip Jeste (Amazon)
UCSD Center for Healthy Aging
Jeste-Thomas Wisdom Index
UCLA Longevity Center