Lessons for a life well-lived.

Lessons for a life well-lived.

Dr. Brian Gahran

Wisdom is the ability to make sound judgments and good life-choices.  Wise persons anticipate the consequences of decisions.

Like speech, wisdom is an accumulated skill.  It is acquired slowly through personal experience and by learning from the mistakes of others.

Dr.’s prescription.

Psychologists differ on how to measure wisdom.  According to psychologists Paul Baltes and Ursula Staudinger (1995), wisdom emerges from reflecting thoughtfully on the lessons gained from experience.  Enter your humble reporter, who has considerable tread wear on the road of life.  Reflecting on things that matter, here are some kernels of wisdom that are of permanent importance:

  1. On wisdom.  Simply to know is not to be wise.  To be wise is to apply common sense, prudence, and good judgment to things that matter.  Recognizing when a decision is important and deserves your attention implies an understanding of situations, people, values, and most importantly, of one’s self.  Develop your “wisdom expertise.”
  2. On integrity.  Senator Alan Simpson said, “If you have integrity, nothing else matters.  If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters.”  Your reputation is your greatest asset so associate yourself with persons of good quality.  Reputation takes years to cultivate but can be compromised in a minute.  Reflect on your actions and always give your best.
  3. On thinking.  Young persons are tempted by the idea that everything that happens to them is controllable.  They are often in error but never in doubt.  But the world is not black and white.  Thinking in shades of gray is hard, requires discipline, and is a sign of maturity.  Listen to your gut but don’t let emotions overpower your logic.
  4. On education.  Education doesn’t determine intelligence or guarantee you a job.  The uneducated person, however, is always placed at a great disadvantage.  No matter how much natural ability you may have, if you are ignorant, you are discounted.  Lifelong education is your passport to opportunity.  Experience is inevitable, learning is not.
  5. On aging.  Most older people know important things.  They are experts in some things, deeply experienced in others, insightful in all.  Their knowledge is valued not because it comes from their authority but from their own struggles to learn how the world turns.  Listen to what they say.  Learn from the bad, assimilate the good, discard the rest.
  6. On success.  Live long and well by making sound and healthy lifestyle choices.  Education, good habits, hard work, persistence, and taking responsibility are your best allies to achieving the American dream.  The world is not a win-lose, zero-sum place so find ways to benefit others that also advance your own objectives.
  7. On family and friends.  Devote time and energy to those who care about you;  there are very few of them.  Aim to understand rather than judge.  Think about the people, places, and events that have changed the course of your life.  No one makes it alone because somebody—a parent, a teacher, a friend, or a stranger—placed a bet on you and took a chance.
  8. On happiness.  Express humility, show gratitude, and offer forgiveness.  Develop a sense of duty and accomplishment.  Love work and follow your heart not the money. Think positively and be motivated about something.  Volunteer.  Exercise your body to reduce anxiety and improve mood.  Conscientiously count your blessings once a week.  Don’t look backwards for very long.  Open new doors and find new inspirations.

Cultivating wisdom is a deliberate choice.

Do not assume that your prejudices are correct.  Learn from the mistakes of others—you don’t have the time, energy, and money to make them all yourself.  Hindsight is always wise.

NeXters, the choices you make, and ultimately the person you become, are in large part a result of making wise life-choices.  Whatever the goals and aspirations we want to fulfill, our ability to reach those goals is largely in our own hands.  Individually, each of us cuts his or her slice of the pie.

So, what shall we make of this moment?  Whoa—did someone say “Pizza”?  Make sure your slice is a big one!


That a tomato is a fruit is knowledge; not to use it in fruit salad is wisdom.
~ S. M. Sapatnekar, epidemiologist


Learn more about this, and other interesting topics, in the Young Person’s Guide to Wisdom, Power, and Life Success.


Image credit: “Portrait of the author as a not-so-young man” by Christopher Gahran, licensed by permission of copyright holder (2017).