The reason wisdom often comes with age is because it doesn’t happen overnight.
It’s a lifelong journey that involves personal growth and self-reflection.
That’s how we gain important insights, learn from our experiences, and develop a deeper understanding of ourselves and the world around us.
So how do you know it is happening?
Psychology can point us in the right direction.
Here are some surefire signs you’re becoming a wiser person.
1) You’re more open to new experiences and ideas than you once were
When I was younger I used to think I knew it all.
As I got older, and hopefully wiser, I started to see how limited my knowledge and experiences truly were.
I came to realize that in reality, I know very little. But rather than feel disappointed by this, I recognized it was progress.
As Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield once put it:
“In seeking wisdom thou art wise; in imagining that thou hast attained it – thou art a fool.”
The science backs it up.
As explained in ‘Wisdom, The Psychology of Wise Thoughts, Words, and Deeds’ this openness is one of the hallmarks of wisdom.
It makes sense. We get smarter through our ability to learn and absorb more — more information, more ideas, more experiences.
Keeping yourself open to this possibility means you leave the door open for greater wisdom.
2) You tend to think of others and not just yourself
It’s often assumed that as people we can be quite naturally self-absorbed.
This was the view taken by science writer Richard Dawkins, in ‘The Selfish Gene’ who argued that evolutionary psychology has made us this way as we fight to compete.
But more contemporary evidence paints a very different picture. It highlights that humans aren’t inherently selfish, in fact, we’re hardwired to work together.
Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Leeds Beckett University, Steve Taylor, points out in The Conversation:
“It makes more sense then to see traits such as cooperation, egalitarianism, altruism and peacefulness as natural to human beings. These were the traits that have been prevalent in human life for tens of thousands of years. So presumably these traits are still strong in us now.”
Research has also shown that the wisest amongst us “care more than other people about self-direction and a common good.”
That means If you are able to put aside your own selfish desires and think of others, you’re growing as a person.
3) You’re much better at dealing with change
Adaptability has been found to be key in wisdom.
According to the “balance theory of wisdom,” wise people can adapt to new environments, change their environments, or select new environments.
Not only that, but there’s evidence that actively seeking change may make you wiser.
One study of women in midlife found that those who’d made some major shifts in areas like love and work were more likely to be wiser by this stage of their life.
As the saying goes, you live, you learn.
Shaking things up most likely provides more learning opportunities than staying small and safe.
Wisdom also involves recognizing that life is full of uncertainty and trying to become comfortable with that fact.
People on the path to wisdom understand that they cannot control everything and they try to stay open to the new possibilities that change can welcome.
This flexibility allows them to adapt to change and navigate challenges more effortlessly. That’s crucial, as we’re about to see next.
4) You’ve had some struggles along the way, but you coped
Leading an entirely charmed life may sound wonderful, but it’s not the way to wisdom.
As our previous points highlighted, the way we develop as people is by getting out into the world and experiencing it.
We may not like them, but often the negative events that touch our lives give us the greatest opportunity for growth and insight.
The struggles you overcome make you wiser.
This is another thing that research has backed up. Stressful life events can facilitate the development of wisdom.
But only up to a point. If your life holds far more bad than good times, this can inhibit wisdom.
It not only depends on the extent of our troubles but also how well we respond to them.
If you have taken some knocks in life, but still managed to come out the other side with a generally positive outlook — rest assured it’s made you wiser.
5) You seek out meaning and purpose in life
This is not only the definition of wisdom, it’s also a fundamental key to happiness itself.
One study explained wisdom as our expertise in the meaning of life.
According to this psychological theory, a wise person is someone who understands what is most important and knows how to get it.
It’s certainly true that so much of our discontentment seems to spring from constantly searching for “more” to make us feel happier. But we can often look in the wrong places.
We may think money, status, or accolades will make us more satisfied, but that’s not the case. The real secret is to find out what matters most to you, and then be proactive in cultivating it.
That could be meaningful relationships, finding purposeful work, making a contribution to society, and asking all of those bigger questions about why we are here.
…Or most likely all of the above.
The point is that you’ve taken the time and energy to really consider what is the meaning of life and how you want to spend your time here on earth.
You may not have all the answers yet, but the very fact you’re searching for them is a testament to your growing wisdom.
The way to wisdom is through greater self-awareness and inquiry
In many ways, wisdom hinges on gaining a deeper understanding.
As Confucius once remarked:
“The beginning of wisdom is the ability to call things by their right names.“
It’s so easy for us to be biased and distorted in our view of ourselves and the world around us. It takes work to gain a better understanding so that we can see things more clearly.
That’s why cultivating self-awareness helps us to get to grips with our own thoughts, emotions, strengths, and limitations.
That’s also going to offer us the emotional intelligence that helps us manage our emotions, as well as empathize with others.
Meanwhile, as well as looking inwards, we have to look outwards.
We need to become like sponges to all the varied experiences and information that life will allow us to absorb.
These things combined give us the internal introspection and external insights that nurture wisdom.
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