The science of older and wiser

An impediment to wisdom is thinking, “I can’t stand who I am now because I’m not who I used to be,” said Isabella S. Bick, a psychotherapist who, at 81, still practices part time out of her home in Sharon, Conn. She has aging clients who are upset by a perceived worsening of their looks, their sexual performance, their physical abilities, their memory. For them, as for herself, an acceptance of aging is necessary for growth, but “it’s not a resigned acceptance; it’s an embracing acceptance,” she said.

“Wise people are able to accept reality as it is, with equanimity,” Professor Ardelt said. Her research shows that when people in nursing homes or with a terminal illness score high on her wisdom scale, they also report a greater sense of well-being. “If things are really bad, it’s good to be wise,” she said.