A word like ‘wisdom’ is not scientifically defined and has a very wide everyday meaning. I am sure that anyone taking a pole of what people thought ‘wisdom’ meant would get as many definitions as the number of people consulted. However, it is central to the word that wisdom is not something you are born with but it comes with experience and maturity, even old age. It is not the same as intelligence; it is not the same as knowing a lot of information. We think of wise people as being able to solve vague and complex problems, especially social ones. But we also think of wise people as avoiding problems to begin with so they don’t have to solve them. We think to wise people as stable – not overjoyed or terribly sad but quietly content with an appropriate reaction to events. They are people-friendly, ready to give help and advice.
A recent paper takes the viewpoint that wisdom is a method of thinking (A Route to Well-Being: Intelligence Versus Wise Reasoning, by Grossman, Na, Varnum, Kitayama, Nisbett). The researchers concentrated on these strategies: consider the perspectives of other people, recognize that change occurs, see that there are many ways for the future to unfold, know the limits of certainly, search for compromise, try to solve/avoid conflict. The strength of this sort of definition is that it fits with measurements of other things. People who think in this way have greater life satisfaction, less negativity, good social relations, avoid ruminating and live longer. The ability to think this way increases with age and experience.
On the other hand, intelligence does not fit with satisfaction, longevity and the other benefits of wisdom.
Here is the abstract:
Laypeople and many social scientists assume that superior reasoning abilities lead to greater well-being. However, previous research has been inconclusive. This may be because prior investigators used operationalizations of reasoning that favored analytic as opposed to wise thinking. We assessed wisdom in terms of the degree to which people use various pragmatic schemas to deal with social conflicts. With a random sample of Americans, we found that wise reasoning is associated with greater life satisfaction, less negative affect, better social relationships, less depressive rumination, more positive versus negative words used in speech, and greater longevity. The relationship between wise reasoning and well-being held even when controlling for socioeconomic factors, verbal abilities, and several personality traits. As in prior work, there was no association between intelligence and well-being. Further, wise reasoning mediated age-related differences in well-being, particularly among middle-aged and older adults. Implications for research on reasoning, well-being, and aging are discussed.
and their conclusion:
Our results suggest that lay beliefs about the relationship between reasoning abilities and well-being are correct, with one caveat. Whereas wise reasoning about social conflicts contributes to well-being, abstract cognitive abilites (as measured by intelligence tests) do not. On the practical side, the present work suggests that despite the cognitive declines often associated with older age, the increasing number of older adults may be of great value for the social and emotional well-being of our future communities.