Self-Reported Wisdom and Happiness: An Empirical Investigation (Bergsma & Ardelt, 2011)

In this paper, Psychologist Ad Bergsma and Sociologist Monika Ardelt take a closer look at the relationship between wisdom and happiness. The topic is rather controversial in the field of wisdom research, with some suggesting that the greater clarity wisdom affords prevents one avoiding previously hidden negative aspects of life.

The researchers find that there is indeed a modest positive correlation between wisdom, as measured by the Three-dimensional Wisdom, and self-reported happiness both ‘today’ and ‘over the last three months’. The strongest correlations were found between the happiness items and the ‘reflective’ dimension of wisdom, rather than with the ‘cognitive’ or ‘compassionate’ dimensions.

They also found that people between the ages of 20 and 59 tended to score the highest on the three-dimensional wisdom scale.

Happiness gains with increased wisdom tended to be greater among low wisdom scorers than high wisdom scorers. It was suggested that this might be because high wisdom scorers might focus more on ‘eudaimonic well-being’ rather than ‘hedonic happiness’.

They also found that less-educated people’s happiness was more affected by increased wisdom than highly educated people. The researchers suggest that this group may have more negative external circumstances to navigate, for which wisdom can be of great help.

Finally, the authors conclude that there are clearly factors other than wisdom that contribute to happiness. In referring to previous studies linking curiosity to happiness and wisdom, they suggest that curiosity may play a key role in determining both wisdom and happiness.


Possible tensions between wisdom and happiness have been extensively debated in philosophy. Some regard wisdom as the ‘supreme part of happiness’, whereas other think that a more accurate and wiser view on reality might reduce happiness. Analyzing a Dutch internet survey of 7037 respondents, we discovered that wisdom and happiness were modestly positively related. Wisdom, measured with the Three-Dimensional Wisdom Scale (3D-WS), explained 9.2% of the variation in hedonic happiness. The correlation with the reflective dimension of wisdom was the strongest. In addition, wisdom was more important for happiness among adults with only an elementary education. Our results suggest that happiness and wisdom do not conflict.

Click here to read the original paper

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