Understanding how wisdom, resiliency and mastery work together to improve a person’s well-being later in life

It's not just wisdom that gives some people a sense of well-being as they age.

A new study shows that while wise people tend to be more satisfied with their lives, wisdom also works to strengthen resilience and mastery to reduce stress and enable a person to better handle late life adversity and aging-related losses.

Understanding how wisdom, resiliency and mastery work together to improve a person's subjective well-being later in life is important given common challenges of aging, from death of loved ones and close friends to impaired health and mobility, said Monika Ardelt, lead author and a sociology professor at the University of Florida. It is also important because traits that mark wisdom, resiliency and mastery can be taught.

The study was published in the German journal Praxis Klinische Verhaltensmedizin und Rehabilitation (Practice of Clinical Behavioral Medicine and Rehabilitation). Dilip V. Jeste of the University of California, San Diego, is the co-author.

The researchers used data on 994 adults from the Successful AGing Evaluation study conducted in California to assess the interplay between resilience, mastery, perceived stress and wisdom and response to adverse life events. The average age of those studied was 77.

Wisdom was assessed using a three-dimensional model Ardelt developed, which incorporates cognitive, reflective and compassionate dimensions -; an interest in life's deeper meaning and acceptance of life's uncertainties; being able to perceive events from multiple perspectives; and having sympathetic love and compassion for others.

Resiliency was defined as older adults' perceived ability to bounce back after adversity and their sense of mastery or control over their environment, life and future.

Not everyone gets wiser as they get older. A person has to be interested in the deeper meaning of life, open to perceiving things from different perspectives and have an intellectual humility about the fact that there is so much more to know. The really important part is learning from experiences and not everybody is learning from their experiences."

Monika Ardelt, lead author and sociology professor, University of Florida

The study found that wisdom in old age "tends to enhance resilience and a sense of mastery and to reduce perceptions of stress directly and indirectly through greater resilience and mastery." Those who scored high in wisdom also tended to be more resilient and to have a stronger sense of mastery over their lives. And these three characteristics might reinforce each other, leading to greater wisdom, resilience and mastery as adverse events are encountered and overcome.

"This suggests that coping skills, focusing on silver linings during stressful events while trying to learn from the experience, and feeling in control of one's life might be possible pathways from wisdom to well-being through a reduction in stress," the researchers said in the article.

Ardelt said the study adds to research on subjective well-being in later life and emphasizes the importance of wisdom-related therapy in old age.

"It is good to be wise," Ardelt said. "Old age is hard, but we can cultivate wisdom in people so they have the tools, along with resilience and mastery, to minimize stress and maintain a sense of well-being when crisis hits."

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