We sometimes assume that wisdom and intelligence are the same. But there are some special traits that mark out a wise person from someone who is just smart.

Most of us know someone who just exudes wisdom. These are the people we confide in when we experience struggles or who we turn to when we need a lift. But what makes these people so wise?

Monika Ardelt, who studies wisdom at the University of Florida, defines wisdom as a ‘combination of cognitive, reflective and compassionate qualities’. In her research, Ardelt has found several traits that are characteristic of wise people.

1. Wise people have a lot of experiences

Wisdom is often a result of a variety of experiences. We sometimes assume that only an old person can really be a wise person. To an extent this is true – we do develop wisdom by our experiences and older people have had more experiences.

However, many young people have also had transformative experiences that will have enhanced their wisdom. The good news is that to increase our wisdom all we need to do is have a variety of experiences.

2. Wise people learn from their experiences

Having said that experience is vital for wisdom, it must be added that experiences alone are not enough. We must learn from these experiences if they are to make us wise.

Those who refuse to be open to the information they receive from new experiences will learn nothing from them. They say that travel broadens the mind, however, this is only true if we take an open mind on our travels.

3. Wise people grow from crises

It is often the case that negative experiences are particularly good for developing wisdom. This is why people who have been through traumatic experiences seem particularly wise. Research confirms this and there is an entire field of psychology that studies how those who have experienced a crisis or traumatic life event actually become stronger as a result.

Most of us have had some negative experiences in life that have made us rethink what is important to us. However, we don’t necessarily have to experience a crisis to become wise.

We can fine-tune our wisdom by learning from the petty irritations of day-to-day life, too. We can choose how to react to negative situations and making good choices can help us become wiser.

4. Wise people have a deeper understanding of things

Wisdom is more than just knowing things. When we refer to wisdom, we are talking about an understanding that goes beyond remembering facts and figures or doing complicated equations.

Wisdom means seeing the deeper implications of this knowledge. A wise person is also able to transfer their knowledge to a variety of situations. In this way, they use their experiences more broadly.

For example, a clever person might use less fuel to save money, while a wise person thinks more about the environment. The wise person can then use their environmental knowledge in other ways to do more to help our planet and its residents.

5. A wise person is tolerant

Empathy and compassion are also key parts of wisdom. It is of no use to have a deep understanding of the world if we do not use this understanding wisely and in the support of others. Those who use their understanding to manipulate others are not truly wise.

We can develop our compassion and empathy by truly listening to others. Reading novels has also been shown to increase empathy.

6. Wise people practice self-reflection

Wise people tend to be very self-reflective. This is part of how they develop wisdom. A deeper understanding of ourselves and others comes from reflecting on our own experiences and behavior and how these affect others.

Self-reflection helps us to learn how to act more wisely in the future. We can boost our wisdom by self-reflective practices such as journaling or meditation.

7. Wise people use their imagination

While clever people may know a lot about the world, this knowledge can only take them so far. In order to create something new, we need to be able to imagine it. Only once it is clear in our minds can we begin to make it a reality. As Einstein said

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

Closing thoughts

We sometimes assume that some people are born wise, or that only older people can be wise. However, research shows that wisdom is something that can be cultivated.

Luckily, we can make the effort to experience new things with an open mind in order to learn from them. We can also learn to handle negative situations better to help us grow stronger.

Simple steps such as listening deeply to others, meditating, and using our imagination can also increase our wisdom. Doing these things leads to a rewarding life as well as increased wisdom.

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