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Getting older is not enough to make you wiser 

Dr. Judith Glück, a psychologist from the University of Klagenfurt, has conducted a comprehensive analysis of studies focused on the relationship between aging and wisdom. 

The research deviates from the common assumption that becoming wiser is a natural advantage of getting older.

Study background 

“Wisdom has been found to help people deal with difficult life transitions and challenging situations in all life phases and especially in old age,” wrote Dr. Glück.

“Learning more about how wisdom develops and how its development can be fostered is important not just to improve individual well-being but also to increase humanity’s chances of survival.”

Not a straightforward path 

Dr. Glück found that despite portrayals in popular culture of the wise elder, statistical relationships between wisdom and chronological age are not strong.

She suggests that although wisdom can and often does come with age, getting older is not enough to make you wiser.

The journey to wisdom, Dr. Glück argues, is not a straightforward path that correlates directly with age. 

“Neither growing old nor accumulating life experiences is sufficient for growing wise. While many people associate wisdom with advanced age, becoming wise clearly requires more than ‘just’ growing old.”

Understanding wisdom

The review suggests that the journey towards wisdom may hinge more on how we reflect upon our life experiences than the experiences themselves. This perspective brings a new understanding of wisdom, highlighting its dynamic nature and the factors influencing its development.

The review delves into the characteristics of wisdom, identifying key elements such as compassion and “self-transcendence.” 


Compassion, as the review explains, is the ability to empathize with others, particularly those in suffering. This emotional connection and understanding are fundamental to wise judgments and decisions. 


Meanwhile, self-transcendence is described as the “evaporation of personal boundaries” in a spiritual sense. This concept suggests a shift in focus from self-centered perspectives to a broader, more inclusive view of life and existence. 

A transcendental approach allows individuals to see beyond their immediate concerns, fostering a deeper understanding and connection with the world around them.

Addressing life’s challenges 

Dr. Glück emphasized the significance of wisdom in addressing life’s challenges, particularly those encountered later in life, such as loneliness. 

Wisdom, with its roots in deep understanding and empathy, provides a valuable resource for dealing with such challenges, offering guidance and perspective in difficult times.

However, the review also presents a nuanced view of wisdom, noting that it may decline with age. Contrary to the common belief that wisdom invariably grows with age, the study points out that some of its components decline. This includes the ability to grasp complex problems and regulate emotions in stressful situations. 

No universal trajectory 

The review brings to light the fact that there is no “universal trajectory of wisdom development.” 

“Whether and how much individuals grow towards wisdom depends on individual constellations of life experiences and intrapersonal and interpersonal resources,” said Dr. Glück.

“Accumulated life experience is an important foundation for wisdom, but not all highly wise individuals are old and many old individuals are not particularly wise.”

More research is needed 

Dr. Glück emphasized that more research on the development of wisdom is urgently needed. 

“Wisdom research is a young field with many open questions. At this point in history, one important goal for future research is to develop wisdom interventions that foster wisdom in all phases of life – from school curricula to systemic interventions in organizations.”

“If humanity is to overcome the challenges it is currently facing, we will need to increase the wisdom of the decisions that both individuals and collectives make.”

The review is published in Current Opinion in Psychology.

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