The old proverb 'what doesn't kill you makes you stronger' might have some truth as scientists discover wisdom comes from overcoming hardship and not age, as it is commonly believed.
Researchers at Oregon State University studied 50 participants who battled a traumatic life event to understand how wisdom develops in the context of a traumatic event such as divorce, the death of a loved one or health crisis.
"The adage used to be 'with age comes wisdom', but that's not really true," said Dr Carolyn Aldwin, director of the Center for Healthy Aging Research in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at OSU.
Dr Aldwin added: "Generally, the people who had to work to sort things out after a difficult life event are the ones who arrived at new meaning."
The researchers analyzed the participants that included 14 men and 36 women between the age of 56 and 91 years old. The participants were interviewed over how they coped with their trauma and if it was a turning point in their life that affected their perspectives and actions.
Dr Aldwin said: "One thing that stood out right away is that, when asked to think about a difficult life event or challenge, people had an answer right away. "
The study found that 32 of them claim that these incidences acted as landmarks in their journey towards self-discovery. While talking about these participants, Dr Aldwin added: "For these folks, the event really rocked their boat and challenged how they saw life and themselves."
The findings of the study revealed that social interactions are crucial during that period and plays a role in developing wisdom.
"It mattered whether a participant was expected to adjust to the event quickly and 'get back to life,' or whether they were encouraged to grow and change as a result of the event," lead author Dr Heidi Igarashi said. "The quality of the social interactions really make a difference."
"Typically, the type of social support you get is the kind you ask for and allow, and there is no 'one size fits all' approach," Dr Igarashi said. "But being open to the resources in your social network, or seeking out things like grief support groups may be worth exploring."