Julian Baggini and Antonia Macaro in FT Magazine:
When people are asked what they’d like in life they typically respond that they want to be happy. Wisdom, which we might think of as a remote and highfalutin concept, is not such a popular answer. But, in practice, happiness is flimsy, relatively unpredictable and best thought of as something that may visit us if we create the right environment for it. A practical, everyday sort of wisdom – the ability to make good choices and judgments in life – is the stuff we need to negotiate life’s sharp bends. There are many lists that attempt to reduce wisdom to its core ingredients. Perhaps it’s unwise to try and come up with the definitive recipe but some skills and attitudes seem especially crucial. Being wise is about knowing what’s important; having sufficient insight into how we and others tick; having a handle on negative moods and emotions instead of being controlled by them; having an attitude of curiosity and a love of learning; understanding we’re all in the same boat and therefore being compassionate towards ourselves and others.
One of the most important skills is captured in the serenity prayer, which says that wisdom is knowing the difference between what can and can’t be changed. This requires performing a balancing act between striving to maximise our potential and accepting our limitations. So we enjoy life while appreciating its fragility; we make decisions in an inescapable state of uncertainty, knowing we’ll often get it wrong; and we accept we’re the product of our circumstances and have limited but crucial opportunity for self-improvement. Wisdom is not something that automatically comes with the passing years. While older people may be better able to put things in perspective than their younger counterparts, many never put their life experience to good use. Luckily, some of the skills that make us wise can be cultivated, so it’s up to us to make what effort we can to ensure that our experience bears fruit.