What It Means To Be Wise

One of my daughters was married recently, and I spent the evening celebrating with 200 people of all ages. They ranged from the highly disciplined flower girls (my 3-year-old granddaughters) to my 85-year-old Uncle Bill Scherer, who fought in World War II and ran successful law and accounting practices for 5 decades. At one point, he clapped me on the back and said: "Son, make sure you talk with everyone here tonight and see that each one feels better about himself when he leaves than he did when he walked in the door."

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Uncle Bill's words made me consider what it means to be mentally sharp. Although our ability to learn and remember gradually declines throughout adulthood, there's mounting evidence that our skill at making sense of important information and experiences increases. This is what's known as wisdom, and it's something that scientists are just beginning to study. Its classic elements include sound judgment, psychological insight, long and diverse life experience, emotional control, empathetic understanding, and, of course, knowledge.

Monika Ardelt, PhD, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Florida, argues that "intellectual knowledge" and "wisdom-related knowledge" are quite different from one another. The former is marked by the accumulation of factual information and skills through study and observation, while the latter involves a deeper understanding of relationships and events acquired through self-examination, reflection, and self-insight. 

Ardelt has found that wisdom-related knowledge often accumulates steadily through life. Thus, forgetfulness may not be totally due to mental deterioration. Rather, it may be our brains making room for a different type of intelligence.

Of course, not all older people are wise, but studies prove that you can become more so by cultivating these habits: [pagebreak] 

Reflect upon your life and consider the major lessons you've learned. Write them down. 

Broaden your exposure to people of all ages, political orientations, occupations, social classes, and cultures. Listen and gain knowledge from their vast and various experiences. 

The next time you're about to disagree with someone, stop and ask questions. Try to understand his or her point of view. 

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Don't waste brain resources on negative thoughts—they drain mental energy. 

Younger people are generally egocentric and eager to recite their accomplishments. Older and wiser people tend to speak of the successes of others. 

Any sentence that begins "There is no doubt that..." or "It is an established fact that..." should be viewed skeptically. 

The wise person calmly considers alternatives, even in crises, and acts upon controllable factors. 

Ponder critical lessons from history, philosophy, psychology, literature, or religion. 

At my daughter's wedding, I was simultaneously happy for her new life and sad she was leaving. There is much ambiguity in life, and the wise accept this. 

Thomas Crook, PhD, a clinical psychologist, has conducted extensive research to improve our understanding of how the brain works. He is a former research program director at the National Institute of Mental Health and is CEO of Cognitive Research Corp. in St. Petersburg, FL.

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Date: 06.12.2018, 19:20 / Views: 74251