Being wise, or at least being seen to be wise, can be a much desired, yet unobtainable, goal in life. And it would seem that it gets easier to be wiser in age than in youth.

Wisdom seems to involve an integration of knowledge, experience, and deep understanding, as well as a tolerance for the uncertainties of life. Wise people also have an awareness of how things play out over time, and wisdom confers a sense of balance and ability to not be overwhelmed in challenging circumstances.

One leading theory, developed by psychologists Paul Baltes and others, defines wisdom as “expert knowledge in the fundamental pragmatics of life that permits exceptional insight, judgment, and advice about complex and uncertain matters.” This definition encompasses five key components:

  • rich procedural knowledge,
  • rich factual knowledge,
  • an understanding of different life contexts,
  • an awareness of the relativism of values and priorities, and
  • the ability to recognize and manage uncertainty.

But there are other theories of wisdom as well.

  • Sociologist Monika Ardelt believes that individuals develop wisdom as personality characteristics encompassing reflection, compassion, and the pursuit of truth.
  • Psychologist Robert Sternberg understands wisdom as being a balance between oneself and others so that actions are directed at the common good.

These theories of wisdom share

  • cognitive components, such as knowledge and experience, 
  • reflective components, or the ability to examine situations and oneself, and 
  • prosocial components, meaning benevolence and compassion. 
  • Wisdom is also connected to abilities such as perspective-taking, open-mindedness, and intellectual humility.

Many of these qualities are ones that require the many different experiences that only a rich full life can develop and mature. Wisdom can develop with age.

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