As the tens of millions of baby boomers enter their third act of life, the concept of wisdom is gaining cultural currency. Like that of previous generations, boomers’ path towards becoming recognized as the wise elders of society is rooted in science. The association between wisdom and aging has a basis in biology: as humans get older, the mind further develops, a direct byproduct of simply having living longer and experiencing more things. Older people are usually more proficient than young people in certain dimensions of cognition, particularly those that involve different ways to solve problems, as well as life planning, and making future goals. Those deemed as “wise” are considered to have greater empathy, be more correct in their views of others’ emotional status, and be more thoughtful of the wellbeing of other people. Wisdom thus appears to incorporate a kind of “emotional intelligence” focused on relationships, accounting for why it so revered. Should it be any surprise that older people serve as a font of wisdom for young folks, especially when it comes to relationships and making life decisions?
The accumulation of wisdom appears to be nature’s form of compensation for the body’s insistence to age. Memory worsens as we get older, but research also suggests that our strategy for the way that we process thoughts and information changes for the better. Older decision makers make significantly better choices by using their pre-frontal cortex, where more rational, deliberative thinking is controlled. Scans of the brain reveal that younger adults typically employ just a single hemisphere to solve a particular problem, while older people will usually both parts of their noggins simultaneously- a process termed “bilateralization.” Tapping into the full range of one’s brain’s power allows us to make more meaningful connections to a problem or situation. As individuals confront different situations, in other words, their brains form representations or cognitive outlines that enable them to detect and react appropriately when similar situations arise. This natural and effortless flowing from the pool of experience that we have assembled through the years is, for lack of a better word, wisdom- a priceless asset that makes aging the rich, wonderful experience that it can it be.