How a person responds to a difficult life event, such as a death or divorce, helps shape their development of wisdom over time, a new study suggests. For many, a difficult life event also disrupted their sense of personal meaning, raising questions about their understanding of their world. These disruptions eventually lead to the development of new wisdom, the researcher said. “The adage used to be 'with age comes wisdom', but that's not quite right.” “In general, the people who had to do something after a difficult life event to figure something out are the ones who have reached a new meaning. ”
The study examined 50 adults aged 56 to 91 who had experienced one or more major difficult life events. The participants were asked to identify a specific difficult or challenging life event, describe how they coped with it, and describe whether the experience changed their outlook or actions in life.
"One thing that immediately struck me was that people who were asked to think about a difficult life or a difficult event had an answer right away," the researcher said. “Hard times are one way people define themselves.” The researchers found that people responded to the difficult life situations in three ways. For one group of respondents, 13 in total, the difficult life event led to little or no doubt about the meaning in their lives. Some of the people in this group simply accepted the event as something that could not be changed, while the rest described using their intelligence, self-control, and plans to solve problems related to the event. The smallest group, five participants, indicated that the difficult life event helped them clarify a specific value or belief that had not been formulated before. The majority of participants - 32 - indicated that the difficult life event disrupted their personal meaning and prompted the person to reflect on themselves, their fundamental beliefs and their understanding of the world.
Further analysis showed that a person's social environment helped shape their responses to the difficult life event. These social interactions include:hiring help from others during the difficult time; unsolicited emotional support from family, friends, or strangers; being held or held, especially among people who share a difficult life event, such as a loss; receive unwanted support; comparing one's reaction to the event with the reactions of others; obtain expert advice; seek out others with similar experiences; make new connections; and learning from society as a whole.
The researchers found that some of these social supports and interactions influenced a person's development of wisdom. For example, those who received unsolicited emotional support developed wisdom around compassion and humility. Seeking others with similar experiences revealed some participants with new ideas and interactions, and supported a deeper exploration of their newfound sense of self.