Older, yes. Wiser… Maybe? 24



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If there’s one thing you hear with increasing frequency as the years pass it’s the phrase “older and wiser”. And, I don’t know about you, but while I’ve got the former in spades, I’m still waiting on the latter attribute.

Does older really mean wiser? I certainly know a few people for whom that is true… And others for whom it is most definitely not the case.

But older is wiser! It’s what we’ve been taught to believe. It’s what civilisation is built upon. It’s why owls, usually wearing glasses, are the clever birds (hang on, how do we know they’re old, these wise owls? Is it the glasses?).

There have been studies in which participants are asked to nominate people they consider wise, and the average age for those suggested hovers between 55 and 60.

See, older = wiser.  People like  Gandhi, Confucius, Socrates, Queen Elizabeth and the Pope: these are the (older) public figures who inspire confidence. 

From the time we’re born, we learn stuff; and we learn a lot more stuff at the beginning of life than at the end, but the theory seems to be that this later stuff is deeper, more profound and important than, say, learning how to crawl down stairs without landing on your face, or how to navigate a foreign city.

A study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology concurs that different skills mature at different periods in our lives. Processing speed, for example, which is how fast we absorb and rejig numbers, names and facts, peaks around age 18, then “drops off a cliff,” according to study author Joshua Hartshorne.

The size of our working memory, or how much data we can remember and manipulate at one time, is at its prime in our mid-20s then plateaus around age 35.

It’s here that data processing steps aside and emotional intelligence kicks in. The study found the ability to determine people’s emotional states from just a photo of their eyes peaked around age 40 and didn’t decline until our 60s.

One could argue that this form of intelligence, being able to gauge people’s emotional states with very little information, is true wisdom, but I put it down to experience. There are, maybe a hundred human emotions? I’ve looked into plenty more sets of eyes than that, in just about every normal human state.

One beautiful finding from the Massachusetts study is that our vocabularies continue to grow, peaking in our 70s (and every one knows that throwing in a big word here and there makes you seem wise).

“Given the way we’ve chosen to define intelligence, people are getting smarter,” says Dr Hartshorne.

So there you have it: older is wiser. Only I don’t really feel that wise. In fact, the older I get the more I feel I don’t know, and the more I realise I will never know.

Do you believe that the older we get, the wiser we get? Or is this just a consolation prize for the lines on our faces? 


Starts at 60 Writers

The Starts at 60 writers team seek out interesting topics and write them especially for you.

  1. Yes I certainly do. And I am so relieved to feel as if I am truly getting somewhere in terms of inner contentment.
    Its great to instinctively know what to do in a crises. Its great to be able to think things through and come up with a solution rather than falling into an emotional heap.
    So many things are much better, I am a better person than I have ever been before.
    It didn’t just happen. I had to work at it.

  2. Yes. Most definately. Mind you we are still vunerable to making a wrong decision when it comes to that which may be a little foreign to us. We never stop learning and should never fall into the trap of thinking we know it all. I think it is more the life experience that brings the wisdom; not the age. It is how we use that wisdom that is important.

  3. No – however I have come to the considered conclusion that some mistakes are worth making twice but this does not make me wiser, just happier

  4. Older..yes. Wiser…not so sure. I am more outspoken now which has got me into trouble, whereas before I would have kept quiet.

  5. Yes absolutely, I think wiser about life in general and common sense, doesn’t seem to be a lot of that around these days.

  6. Life experiences definitely make you wiser. I think back to advice given to me by my grandmother, whom I loved, but didn’t really heed what she said. She was so right in so many things. I feel wiser in my older age.

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