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Scientists explain why “being wise” is the key to happiness and mental health

Wisdom is something that is hard to define or even quantify.

Yet, for scientists, spiritualists, and philosophers, one thing is clear:

Being wise has a direct link to happiness and well-being.

A recently published paper in the Harvard Review of Psychiatry aimed to study the effects of wisdom and its association with mental health.

Here’s what they found out about the surprisingly huge impact of wisdom to our mental health.

Wisdom development for mental health and happiness

 “Wisdom alone is the science of other sciences.”

– Plato

Researchers believed that different aspects of wisdom affect different parts of the brain.

They wrote:

“Wisdom may be defined as a complex human trait with several specific components: social decision making, emotion regulation, prosocial behaviors, self-reflection, acceptance of uncertainty, decisiveness, and spirituality.

“These components appear to be localized primarily to the prefrontal cortex and limbic striatum.”

For some time now, there’s been a growing belief in the field of science that wisdom is a “personally and societally useful construct.”

According to the study’s authors Dilip V. Jeste, MD, and Ellen E. Lee, MD, of the Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging in the University of California San Diego, wisdom has been linked to:

“…better overall physical and mental health, well-being, happiness, life satisfaction, and resilience.”

And if other psychological parameters like stress, consciousness, and resilience can be measured, the researchers believed that it can be possible with wisdom, too.

In the study, the scientists looked at the literature on wisdom – from ancient texts written by philosophers to modern studies.

These include papers like “the Sebayt, Egyptian scrolls dating from 2000 to 1700 BC, and the Bhagavad Gita, a Hindu philosophical/religious scripture… Old Testament books of Job, Psalms, and Proverbs” to the influential “Hall’s 1922 treatise Senescence: The Last Half of Life.”

While reviewing the impact of wisdom across our history, the scientists came to the conclusion that:

“Openness to new experiences as a young adult and lifelong psychosocial growth were predictive of wisdom in old age, while emotional stability and extraverted personality were predictive of well-being in old age.”

Can wisdom be increased?

The question is, can you develop wisdom to increase your happiness and mental well-being?

According to the researchers, theoretically, yes.

They say:

“If wisdom can be markedly impaired by specifically located brain trauma or diseases such as frontotemporal dementia, as discussed above, it should be theoretically possible to enhance it through interventions that enhance the functioning of those brain regions through biological or behavioral techniques.”

The wise old saying that wisdom comes with age might be true. But that doesn’t mean you have to wait to grow old to be wise.

According to clinical psychologist Dr. Paul Schoenfeld, developing wisdom while you are young can prove effective, especially since our cognitive abilities are sharper in youth.

How can you start?

Dr. Paul believes you should be a student of your own life.

He adds:

“Study your life—What can you learn from every experience you have. Ask yourself how you might handle that situation differently next time? What did you like about how you handled that challenge?.

“Leave your past experience at the door and approach everything as if it is entirely new to you. Don’t be concerned about demonstrating to others what you know. Think about what you can learn.”

Wisdom and its impact on illness

This study isn’t the first one to prove just how effective wisdom is to our minds and bodies.

One particular study from the University of California, San Diego suggests that wisdom can prevent the development of schizophrenia.

senior author Dilip Jeste, MD, psychiatry professor at the Stein Institute for Research on Aging at UC San Diego School of Medicine, says:

“There is a concept of ‘wellness within illness. Our findings support the hypothesis that wisdom and schizophrenia co-exist in a proportion of these patients, specifically those functioning at a higher level.

“Furthermore, the data suggest that treatments which enhance positive psychological traits, such as wisdom, may promote health and well-being in persons with schizophrenia.”

Another study explored the impact of ancient wisdom of yoga to our mental health. Yoga and meditation have grown popular in our modern culture, that even science supports its health and wellness benefits.

The study’s aim is to “ correlate modern techniques used in psychology and psychiatry with yogic practices, in the treatment of mental disorders.”

Researchers concluded:

“Modern interventions in psychology might not come from modern concepts after all, but share great similarity with ancient yogic knowledge, giving us the opportunity to integrate the psychological wisdom of both East and West.”

Being wise is crucial to a good, meaningful life.

Albert Einstein famously said once:

“Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.”

Whether you believe it or not, wisdom has a grounding effect on the way we live our lives.

Though hard to define and quantify, it is something we all should strive to achieve. At least, it wouldn’t hurt.

Don’t wait for old age, start achieving wisdom today.

Notable replies

  1. Karin says:

    Some grow old and wise, and some just grow old…
    One would hope that living is acquiring wisdom. In order to do that, life has to have a sense of meaning/purpose, otherwise we only grow old…
    To give one’s life meaning, it’s important to pay attention. Nothing is achieved if one doesn’t pay attention. Dalai Lama says that paying attention is the way to Happiness. Being present in your life here and now makes for good decisions which in turn give satisfaction.
    Wisdom encompasses a lot: be kind (to yourself and others), say sorry when in the wrong, forgive (yourself and others), and always remember that we are all fallible… that’s the human part of us :wink:

  2. I appreciate this post, I have never thought that I was especially wise but based on my life experience I think I must have some of it. I am always trying to share the bits I have, as demonstrated by my posts here on Ideapod. And I keep looking for someone else like me to show up and have a conversation. Too often when I reply to someone with a paragraph or two all I receive is a sentence back to me. I wish people had more to say, but if that is the best they can do I will accept that.

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Written by Genefe Navilon

Genefe Navilon is a writer, poet, and blogger. She graduated with a degree in Mass Communications at the University of San Jose Recoletos. Her poetry blog, Letters To The Sea, currently has 18,000 followers. Her work has been published in different websites and poetry book anthologies. She divides her time between traveling, writing, and working on her debut poetry book.

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