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Are wise people happy or should they be worried? It might be argued that ignorance is bliss, whereas deeper insight into the reality, uncertainty, and impermanence of life that accompany the development of wisdom might cause worry and concern rather than greater well-being. This chapter first describes two pathways to positive human development, personality adjustment and personality growth, and how personality adjustment might be related to subjective well-being, while personality growth is more likely associated with aspects of psychological well-being. However, I argue that wisdom exemplifies both personality adjustment and personality growth through increases in equanimity and insight, and I present empirical evidence that shows consistent associations between measures of personal wisdom and indicators of psychological and subjective well-being. The relation between personal wisdom and subjective well-being appears to be even stronger during adversity and hardship and might be moderated by indicators of psychological well-being, coping skills, emotional intelligence, self-compassion, and gratitude.
This chapter discusses the difference between defining wisdom as general wisdom-related knowledge or wise reasoning and wisdom as a personality type. In contrast to disembodied wisdom-related knowledge and wise reasoning, personal wisdom encompasses the whole person and is characterized by wisdom-related personality qualities. We describe three conceptions of wisdom as a personality type: wisdom as integrative personality, wisdom focused on non-cognitive personality, and wisdom as transpersonal personality. Empirical evidence confirms that wisdom defined as a personality type is more consistently related to the Big Five personality traits and psychological and subjective well-being than general wisdom-related knowledge and wise reasoning. Whereas people’s wisdom-related knowledge or wise reasoning do not reveal their personality, general approach to life, or how satisfied and content they are, individuals with a wise personality tend to be open to new experiences, agreeable, conscientious, extraverted, and emotionally stable and to report greater psychological and subjective well-being.
Prior research found that the positive association between wisdom and subjective well-being might at least partially be explained by a greater sense of mastery and purpose in life. This study tested whether religiosity provides an alternative pathway to well-being and whether the associations are moderated by age cohort and nation of residency.
Design and Participants:
A quota sample design was used, stratified by age group, sex, and nation of residency, to collect cross-sectional survey data of 111 older adults (age range 62–99 years, M = 77.20, SD = 8.98) and 100 young adults (age range 21–30 years, M = 24.05, SD = 2.69) from Canada and the United States.
Face-to-face interviews were conducted to administer the survey. All measures consisted of validated scales and items.
Multi-group path analysis confirmed that mastery and purpose in life partially mediated the association between wisdom and well-being. Religiosity offered an alternative pathway to well-being, also partially through a greater sense of mastery and purpose in life. Wisdom was statistically more strongly related to mastery among older adults, whereas the association between mastery and purpose in life was statistically stronger among young adults. The mediated pathways from wisdom and religiosity to well-being did not differ by nation of residency.
These results highlight the importance of internal strengths for subjective well-being among both young and older adults and add confidence to the generalizability of the mediated path model for North America.