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Intelligent or Wise?

Good grades are all the rage these days. They’re supposed to measure how intelligent and industrious you are. Students strive for a high GPA, with the goal of being admitted into a top college. When they get that acceptance letter, all that hard work seems to have paid off. Time for celebration! You’ve made it! You’re set for life! Yay!

Except when you’re not. Being intelligent and industrious is not everything. It is simply the ability to think logically, understand concepts, know formulas and be able to work hard.

But, and this is a big but, studies have shown that there is no correlation between intelligence and well-being.

Suicide is currently the second most common cause of death among college students. What a grim statistic! How could this be so? Students have won the prize! But for some, the stress has just begun. Away from home and friends, far from their support systems, working under intense pressure, changes in sleeping, eating, drinking and drugging patterns. Not everyone can handle all that!  

With so much pressure to show how intelligent you are, we have ignored the cultivation of wisdom.

But if you’re intelligent, aren’t you supposed to be wise? What’s the difference between the two?

Wisdom is more than knowing facts. It’s more than understanding concepts. It’s more than thinking logically.

Albert Einstein expressed it this way: “Any fool can know. The point is to understand.”

Marilyn vos Savant: “To acquire knowledge, one must study; but to acquire wisdom, one must observe.”

Pierre Abelard: “The beginning of wisdom is found in doubting; by doubting we come to the question and by seeking we may come upon the truth.”

If you (or a loved one) want to face life’s challenges in a wiser way, ask yourself these two questions:

1. How do I react to being frustrated?

If you are 3 years old emotionally, you might scream and scream and scream. Then accuse, blame and condemn — yourself and others. It never should have happened. It’s awful, atrocious, dreadful. Yes, that may all be true. But if you are wise, you’ll be able to embrace your frustration. Embrace it? What you talking about? Yes, embrace it.

Frustration is the consequence of living in a world of choice, change and creativity. It need not be troublesome, especially if it emanates from challenging activity. So, instead of reacting like a 3-year-old, take a deep breath. Relax. Then, reflect on what’s good about the challenge you’re facing and how you might resolve your frustration in a wise manner.  

2. How do I react when I can’t decide what to do?

When there’s a struggle between opposing parts of your personality, do you get upset with others, blaming them for bringing up confusing choices? Do you wish life were simpler, without all these decisions you must make? If you are wise, you’ll be able to embrace your ambivalence. Rather than view it as troublesome, recognize that there are many parts to you — the risk-taking part that wants to experience life in all its infinite variety and the cautious part that craves nothing more than being out of harm’s way. It is wise not to disown any part entirely but instead, to work towards integrating the parts of you that seek expression.

Young people whose education has centered on getting great grades often don’t know anything about handling the frustrations of life. They may have mastered information about a broad slice of life but their knowledge is insufficient to guide them in their journey forward. To flourish, they need to develop wisdom.

The wisdom to manage their feelings.

The wisdom to make good choices.

The wisdom to embrace the unknown.

The wisdom to doubt.

The wisdom to observe.

The wisdom to understand.

Intelligent or Wise?


Linda Sapadin, Ph.D

Linda Sapadin, Ph.D. is a psychologist and success coach in private practice who specializes in helping people become the best they can be. You can reach her at [email protected] Visit her website at www.PsychWisdom.com. Follow her on FB: facebook.com/Dr.Sapadin/


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APA Reference
Sapadin, L. (2019). Intelligent or Wise?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 17, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/intelligent-or-wise/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 27 Jan 2019
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 27 Jan 2019
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.