Wisdom: Definition, Synonyms, and Meaning

By BetterHelp Editorial Team|Updated July 8, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPC

A Licensed Therapist Can Help You Gain Wisdom About Mental Health

Wisdom seems to be a rare commodity. It's easy to increase your knowledge or learning, after all: store up some knowledge, gather up book smarts through reading and education, and learn how to effectively study and apply your knowledge. Wisdom, though, is different: you have to think more deeply to become wise. The first step in increasing wisdom—or gaining any at all—is to have a clear definition of what wisdom means to you, and what it means to you. In other words, you must have a clear definition of what wisdom actually means, and why it is important to you to develop it.

A Simple Wisdom Definition

Wisdom is complex, but you can begin to get an idea of what it is with a simple definition. We can define wisdom as the quality of combining experience, knowledge, and good judgment to live well.

Synonyms for Wisdom

One way to approach the question of "what is wisdom" is to take a look at some synonyms of “wisdom.” Here are several to consider:

Acumen

Acumen only describes one aspect of wisdom. Having acumen means being able to quickly perceive and discern information in your environment. You may have business acumen, for example, if you see business opportunities or challenges quickly and have an immediate understanding of a given business situation.

Caution

Caution can be a synonym for wisdom in some cases. If you're cautious, you pay careful attention to the probable effects of what you're doing. Caution is important if your goal is to avoid danger, failure, or harm. However, sometimes the wisest thing you can do is take a risk. Even so, a wise person would identify the risk and prepare for the possibility of danger, failure, or catastrophe.

Common Sense

Some people use common sense as a substitute for wisdom. Others feel that it falls short of the higher understanding that's associated with wisdom. If you're using common sense, you have a sensible, practical understanding of a thing, person, or situation that can guide you in making ordinary decisions.

Experience

Experience is a strong component of wisdom. Perhaps that's why it's easier for someone who is older to be wiser than someone who is younger. Experience is all that you've been through in your life. Experience can come from formal learning, hands-on training, or simply by living. It only becomes wisdom when you learn from what's happened and understand how to apply it to what's happening in the present.

Foresight

Someone who is truly wise sees potential problems and outcomes and prepares for them before they happen. Foresight can keep you from making mistakes. However, it's important to understand that foresight isn't the same thing as worrying. If you have foresight, you simply identify and acknowledge what could happen and do what is needed to prepare for it. Worrying, conversely, is identifying a potential problem and becoming anxious about it. Wisdom and worrying are not synonymous.

Intelligence

Intelligence is closely related to wisdom. If you're intelligent, you're able to understand principles, facts, meanings, and truths. You can also apply what you know in real life. You can comprehend subjects you study and learn them well. You need intelligence to have the highest wisdom, and in fact, if you're truly intelligent, you see the truth of situations as a wise person does. That said, people can be intelligent but not wise and vice versa (to a lesser degree).

Judgment

Wisdom involves the ability to make sound judgments. When you're wise, you can judge people and situations correctly, justly, and intelligently. Often, people think of judging as a bad thing. That might be true if you're judging someone for no helpful purpose; however, you need to have good judgment to make the right choices in your life. Judgment helps people make sound financial decisions, accurately evaluate relationships, and pursue their passions.

Prudence

Prudence is a word that isn't used much nowadays, but it's a good synonym for wisdom. It means the quality of being wisely cautious. When you're prudent, you're careful. You show superior discretion. You may also be frugal, because you understand the need to be prepared to meet future needs. Most commonly used in the phrase “It would be prudent to...”, prudence demonstrates the ability to anticipate different possibilities and pursue a course of action that will lead to the best possible outcome—even if that course of action is to abstain from something or remain silent.

Balance

There's a sense in which wisdom is equal to balance. Its components are problem-solving, understanding context, ethical behavior, tolerance, and empathy. To have real wisdom, you need all of these components, but you need to have all of them in abundance. You need to balance your ability to solve problems with your ability to tolerate what can't be changed, for instance.

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Enlightenment

When you reach enlightenment on a subject, you've achieved complete clarity in the way you perceive the subject. Your extensive knowledge combined with your sound reasoning makes wise understanding and decisions possible.

Reason

Your reason refers to your rationality. It includes your conceptions of people and situations, as well as your judgments and intuition about them. Only then can you make the right decisions and live the good life that comes with true wisdom.

Clear Thinking

Wisdom can also be seen as clear thinking. If you're wise, you don't get sidetracked by irrelevant things. You see the problem or situation as it is, apart from any emotional baggage you might have. You pay attention to what matters when you're trying to discern the truth of any situation.

What Is the Deeper Meaning of Wisdom?

So, what does wisdom mean beyond its simple definition and synonyms? The deeper meaning of wisdom is the ability to distinguish what is wise from what is unwise. When you're wise, you use knowledge with insight. Knowledge is utilized only after you truly understand what you have learned and are better able to apply it to both current situations and those you encounter down the road.

Wisdom isn't simply an academic ability. You have to put it into practice for it to be worthwhile. If you're wise, you combine your knowledge, experience, and intuitive understanding to make the right decisions. You know what it takes to live well and you're successful in living well. You practice ethical behavior, empathy, and tolerance of life's uncertainties and differences. When you're wise, you not only have a better life, but you also make the world a better place for others.

How to Develop Wisdom

It doesn't matter how you define wisdom if you don't seek to have it in your life. The true meaning of wisdom won't help you unless you develop your own wisdom and learn to recognize it in others. The best way to become wise is to intentionally cultivate your wisdom. If you want to have wisdom, there are a few things you can do over the course of your lifetime to become wiser. The ways to effectively build wisdom include:

Seek Knowledge

Knowledge forms the basis of wisdom. Fortunately, knowledge is relatively easy to gain. You can get it from reading extensively, taking courses on subjects that interest you, working at a job, or even by watching educational YouTube videos. You can also learn from the people you know who have knowledge about various subjects or who possess a lot of life experience.

Practice Reflection, Not Rumination

Reflecting on what happens to you can increase your wisdom over time. When you reflect on something, you think of it in a nonjudgmental way, pondering it from different perspectives, and trying to see it as clearly as possible. This is a great start for wisdom; wisdom is not merely thought. It is also action. In wisdom, “action” is the word of the day.

Thinking seriously and carefully about your experiences is not the same as ruminating. When you're reflecting, you're considering what has happened to you. You go through many different ideas. Reflection is neutral or even positive.

Rumination, on the other hand, is cycling through the same thought repeatedly, without gaining any new insights or even considering different ways of understanding. Rumination won’t necessarily increase your wisdom; instead, it's more likely to cause negativity, such as increased anxiety or depression.

Experience Life

Fear can keep you from going out and gaining experience in life. A lack of interest may also keep you from seeking new experiences. To gain wisdom, though, you need to have experiences to build it on. So, take a chance. Try something new. Go to a new place and meet new people. When you do, you'll gain perspective, insight, and the experience, all of which are vital for developing wisdom. Wisdom cannot develop without some degree of experience.

Choose the Right Guide

Nearly all of the great thinkers in history have had guides or mentors to learn from. A mentor can help you explore questions that you didn't even realize you had. They can provide insight into life that you haven't had the opportunity to gain through your own experiences. Find someone who fits a sound wisdom definition. Then, seek to spend time with them and take in what they can teach you.

Some people are disheartened when they learn the meaning of wisdom. They feel that they can never be wise because they're not smart enough or they feel they're too emotional to see clearly. However, everyone can reach their own highest level of wisdom. To do that, they may need help to overcome emotional issues.

If you need help with your thinking and emotions, you can benefit from talking to a mental health counselor. You can talk to a licensed counselor at BetterHelp for online therapy on your schedule. Your therapist can help you learn techniques for changing unhelpful thoughts. They can help you practice positive reflection rather than rumination.

When you take care of the problems that are holding you back from becoming wise, that in itself is a wise decision. From there, you can improve your thinking, increase your ability to make the right decisions for you, and live a happier, more fulfilling life!

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