Stringine you along?

This column originally appeared in The Observer magazine/Guardian online

How wise are you? Unlike its flashier cousin intelligence, the concept of wisdom has been virtually ignored by scientists, perhaps because – although we all know it when we see it – nobody can quite put their finger on exactly what wisdom is. But recently this has started to change, to the point that you can now measure your wisdom by answering a few simple questions. First, take a few moments to think over a recent negative incident or interaction involving another person. Now, on a scale of 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree, to what extent do you feel that…

(a) in order to understand the incident, I need to have detailed information about the exact circumstances of the incident (“intellectual humility”)

(b) as I thought about the incident I saw it more from the perspective of an onlooker, than through my own eyes (“self-transendence”)

(c) I am now more able to understand the other person’s point of view, and even to sacrifice my own interests in order to avoid damaging my relationship with this person (“other perspectives and compromise”)

The higher your score (the average scores are 3, 3 and 4) the wiser you are. A recent study found that wisdom varies not only from person to person, but from day to day within individuals. When people took a “wise” perspective on negative events, they were not only more forgiving to others, but better to control their own emotions and less adversely affected by the event. So next time somebody winds you up, don’t rise to it; get wise to it.

A fully referenced version of this article is available at benambridge.com. Order Psy-Q by Ben Ambridge (Profile Books, £8.99) for £6.99 at bookshop.theguardian.com

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