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So you think wisdom comes with age?

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Wisdom: a finely calibrated balance of knowledge and understanding accumulated along life’s journey. It plateaus somewhere from middle age to age 75, some research reports.

Good news: You don’t have to wait until old age to develop wisdom.

Bad news: It’s still rare.

Wisdom has been studied for only a generation or two, but certain qualities crop up over and over, including resiliency, openness to possibilities, forgiveness and generosity. On the other hand, says a leading researcher, those who lack wisdom have “this occupation with the self.”

Three core traits of wisdom:

1. Expert knowledge,
including a clear-eyed assessment of the human condition and the ability to make decisions in ambiguous situations. Wise people accept that some things lie outside their control.

2. Reflective side
that sees the scenario from different points of view.

3. Empathy
that allows wise people to feel compassion without drowning in emotions. Even in dire circumstances, they remain optimistic. Wisdom lets them step back and assess a situation calmly.

Although wisdom doesn’t necessarily increase with age, older people seem to have a better grip on their emotions. They feel fewer negative emotions and, when they do, hold themselves in check. Older people also seem to feel mixed emotions, like happiness tinged with sadness, which may help them regulate their behavior.

Ultimately, wisdom reveals what we value. Or to flip it, in the words of psychologist and philosopher William James, “The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.”

If you’d like to measure your wisdom, The New York Times offers a “wisdom scorecard.” Try it at by typing in “wisdom scorecard” in the search box.

— Adapted from “The Older-and-Wiser Hypothesis,” Stephen S. Hall, The New York Times Magazine

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