The Science of Older & Wiser

How important is wisdom as we become older? In her recent New York Times article, Phyllis Korkki writes that wisdom is the most important quality we can possess to age successfully and be able to confront the issues of physical decline and death. Facing those challenges armed with the positive well being and kindness that define wisdom is essential. Korkki cited an analysis by geriatric neuro-psychologist Vivian Clayton which determined the three components of wisdom are cognition, reflection and compassion.  While our cognition is slowed by aging, our wisdom can be enhanced by the broader life experience from which we, as elders, can draw.

“Wise people learn to accept reality as it is with equanimity and when they do, they enjoy a greater sense of well-being,” according to University of Florida- Gainesville associate sociology Professor Monika Ardelt.  Psychologist Erik Ercikson, Korkki says, coined the term “Generativity” or giving back without needing anything in return, whether that giving is creative, social, personal or financial as one of the most important signs of wisdom.

Whatever the nature of one’s limitations, simplifying one’s life is also a sign of wisdom, Dr. Clayton said, for example, by giving your things away while you are still alive. Some people have trouble with the idea of settling for less — “they have gotten so used to the game of acquiring more,” she said.

The acceptance, reflection, kindness, selflessness, simplification, that help us bring wisdom to our aging can become the key to facing the downside with grace. To read the entire New York Times article, “The Science of Older & Wiser” go here or paste in your browser.