Wisdom comes from experience. It doesn’t pass from someone who has it to someone who does not. We can find knowledge in books, but wisdom is inseparable from the person who holds it. Knowledge is static, but wisdom is fluid. Knowledge is learned from books and passed from person to person. Ivan Misner, the founder of Business Network International, describes the passing of knowledge from person to person as “the Leaky Bucket Syndrome.” It is like you have a bucket of knowledge, and each time it is shared, a little of that knowledge splashes out. When you notice that some knowledge has splashed out, you refill the bucket. Sometimes you fill it with good solid knowledge, sometimes with nonsense. Over time the knowledge gets more and more diluted.
Most of us know someone really smart who is lacking in common sense. Their head is full of knowledge, but somehow wisdom has found no place in them. History gives us hope in the wisdom of the ages. In her book, Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder, Arianna Huffington outlines ancient wisdom in the form of beliefs and practices that modern science has confirmed can help us lead happy, healthy balanced lives.
The first principle is from the ancient Greeks. It is Helping others can make you healthier. Greek philosophers spent the better part of their lives searching for the best way to live. They debated hedonic and eudemonic happiness. Hedonic happiness comes from increasing pleasure and reducing pain. Eudemonic, also called “human flourishing,” is about life having a larger purpose or meaning. Recent studies at UNC-Chapel Hill showed that while both types of happiness make you feel good, eudemonic happiness can promote health and longevity and increase a person’s resistance by increasing antibody production.
Acupuncture was a form of medicine practiced in ancient China. It continues to be practiced today as traditional Chinese medicine. Both eastern and western practitioners use acupuncture to address imbalances in a person’s energy, called Chi. Acupuncture effectively relieves chronic and acute pain (think arthritis and migraines). A study of the data of 18,000 subjects shows that acupuncture was more effective than fake acupuncture and standard western care when treating certain types of pain, including chronic back pain and migraines.
Community is a crucial component of happy lives. An analysis of 148 studies involving over 300,000 people indicated that individuals with stronger social relationships have a fifty percent higher likelihood of survival. The effect of social relationships on lowering mortality risk is greater than that of exercise or reducing obesity.
Tai Chi can offer relief in many health conditions. The foundational belief of this ancient martial art is that achieving balance in one’s mind and body generates a sense of peace and harmony. The movement meditation of Tai Chi can prevent many age-related illnesses, including arthritis, low bone density, and heart disease.
Meditation originated long ago in the far east. The stilling of the mind and increasing awareness offers several health benefits. A recent study by the Harvard Medical school showed that meditation affects the genes that control stress levels and immune function. By using neuroimaging and genomics (DNA mapping), Harvard psychiatrist John Denninger accurately measured physiological changes in each subject. High-stress individuals who followed a prescribed yoga and meditation routine showed improved production, utilization, and resiliency reducing the stress known to cause hypertension and infertility.
In the Buddhist tradition, Compassion is the key to a meaningful life. A 2012 study from Emory University found an ancient practice called Metta or loving-kindness can boost one’s ability to empathize with others. Over time, the method increases positive emotions allowing them to find a more profound sense of mindfulness and purpose, increasing overall life satisfaction.
Accepting what you cannot change is the path to reducing suffering. The Buddhists teach that we can reduce suffering by accepting the things we cannot change. This can be especially important for older adults who must adapt to the complex changes that aging brings. The best way for us all to adapt to changes in ability and circumstances is to accept what we cannot control and to control what we can. Of course, when we do this, having the wisdom to know the difference is helpful.
While many of the practices listed above are from eastern philosophies, there is one piece of wisdom that philosophies east, west, new, and old agree upon. All you need is love. The value of love in maintaining a happy, meaningful life is a universal truth. A Harvard research study spanning 75 years yielded numerous conclusions, but the researcher, George Vaillant, considered the most significant finding to be that a happy life revolves around loving relationships. Vaillant said that there are two pillars of happiness. The first is love, and the other is finding ways to cope with life that does not push love away.
I recently revisited a book I have read several times, and it reminded me of how powerful simple wisdom can be. The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz offers the Toltec wisdom of the ages.
The first Agreement is Be Impeccable to Your Word. Ruiz says that when you master this, it brings you to what he calls “heaven on earth.” Everything, what you dream, feel, and are, is manifested through your word. In your words is your power to express and communicate, think, and create events in your life. Your word is magic, and the misuse of your word is black magic. When you are impeccable to your word, you take responsibility for your actions.
The second agreement is Don’t take anything personally. Other people do what they do not because of us, but because of themselves. Taking things personally is selfish because we assume everything is about us. We become trapped in our own importance. The author C.S. Lewis said, “Don’t think less of yourself, just think of yourself less.” To keep this agreement:
- Do not take anything personally.
- No matter what people think, do, or say, don’t take it personally.
- If someone insults you or compliments you, don’t take it personally.
You need to trust what you know about yourself and not give power to what someone else thinks.
The third agreement is Don’t make assumptions. We make assumptions about everything. In our relationships, we mind read. We believe we know what others are thinking and even get angry at them for what we assume they are thinking. The truth is that our assumptions are often wrong. Ruiz says that all the sadness and drama we live in our life is rooted in assumptions. Our assumptions are a setup for suffering, and it is always better to ask questions than to make assumptions. One of the ways you can know when you are making assumptions is when you use the word “should” or “shouldn’t.” When you stop “shoulding” on yourself life gets easier.
The fourth agreement is Always do your best. Accept that your best will be different over time. Your best may improve over time but pushing yourself to do more than your best is a recipe for burnout and dissatisfaction. You learn to accept yourself when you know you are doing your best. You can do your best when you want to do a task, but not when required to or when you are doing it for a payoff. The truth is that you can only be you when you do your best.
By standing on the shoulders of those who have gone before us, we can be smarter quicker and step on our own path to wisdom. Helping others, community, and compassion are all important in our interactions with others. Tai Chi, acupuncture, and meditation are ways ancient wisdom can improve our physical health and well-being. Accepting what you cannot change is a way to peace. In addition to following these ancient pathways to wisdom, beginning to understand and embrace the Four Agreements can help you bring the wisdom of the ages to your life.
Cami Miller is a business coach and works with executives, entrepreneurs, and family businesses to develop strategies for success. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org