According to new research from the University of California San Diego, acquiring wisdom makes you less lonely. But can you learn how to be wiser without, like, aging rapidly?
Well, the study investigated 485 middle-aged and elderly adults from San Diego, California, and Cilento, Italy, and it revealed a correlation between more wisdom and less loneliness. But what is wisdom? The study diagnosed “wisdom” as a multidimensional trait that encompasses a few things: emotional regulation, self-reflection, decisiveness in the face of uncertainty, acceptance of divergent value systems, social advising, and compassion. It’s in that last component that researchers assumed we can use to become more wise, and therefore less lonely. Sounds win-win!
Below, a few ways you can increase your compassion, amp up your wisdom, and feel less lonely at any age.
1. Choose curiosity over judgement
‘”Look at every scenario or experience with curiosity,” says psychotherapist Jennifer Teplin, LCSW. “When we’re curious rather than judgmental it enables us to learn, connect and reach resolution quicker.”
Think of it this way: a judgmental mindset allows you to jump to conclusions on something, assuming you know everything. Meanwhile, a curious mindset allows you to actually explore the truth of something. To throw out an example, when I first started this job I felt really eye-roll-y about astrology. But as I adjusted my mindset and learned more and more on the job, I’ve literally adopted chart reading as a tool to help my friends. Whatever your version of astrology is, it might be worth re-investigating!
2. Try a “Safe Space” meditation
“There are specific cells in our brain that are responsible for empathy, the ability to understand someone else‘s feelings and experiences,” says clinical psychologist Aimee Daramus, PsyD. “They’re called mirror neurons, and they work best when you feel safe and cared about. If you want to be more compassionate, feeling safe is important.”
One way to do this is by doing a safe space meditation. You sit quietly and visualize somewhere where you would feel completely safe. It could be in your house, in the arms of someone you love, among the trees, between the pages of your favorite book, floating in orbit, wherever anywhere that you feel like no one and nothing could hurt you. “Explore your safe space with all five senses,” says Dr. Daramus. “What would you hear, taste, smell?”
3. Look for a way to help others
“So often when we’re feeling helpless it’s helpful to support others,” says Teplin. “Also seeing outside of ourselves enables us to have a more compassionate lens.”
It’s a big reason why volunteering or finding a way to support others is good for you in the long run. And bonus: research as early as the ’80s and beyond shows that prosocial behavior gives you a “helper’s high,” usually because you can actually see the results of your kindness. To take this a step further, Teplin suggests that at the start of each day you can note to whom and to what you’re sending your love and support.
4. Start each day noting 3 things you’re grateful for
Gratitude lists! Keep it simple! Teplin suggests a little gratitude practice such as this because it’ll help you see and appreciate the things that you have in your life versus what you don’t have.
5. Explore the negative feelings someone brings out in you
You don’t have to feed yourself to energy vampires for the thrill of it. But if you have someone you interact with every day that might be triggering—a boss, a parent, et al.—it could help to explore why they make you feel a certain way.
“Name the feeling,” says Dr. Daramus. “Why do you feel that way if the danger isn’t real? What’s actually happening, versus what does irrational fear tell you about that person? Then challenge yourself to read, watch, and talk to people who bring out irrational fear or anger in you. Listen quietly at first and let the emotions rise and fall so you can see that you’re actually safe.”
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