Intelligence and Wisdom: Five Important Differences

· August 13, 2018

Intelligence and wisdom aren’t the same, although many use the terms interchangeably in day-to-day life. We live in a society that values efficiency and results, where it seems that only the most intelligent can succeed. However, only wise people achieve genuine happiness. This is because they have strong values to guide them. Also, because they try to do the right thing and are optimistic.

If you were to look up the word wisdom in the dictionary, you would find a simple definition: a person’s ability to act sensibly, reasonably, and correctly. Of course, that raises some questions. Doesn’t intelligence give you the ability to act reasonably in day to day life? Doesn’t a high IQ guarantee the power to make good decisions?

“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”

-Socrates-

Of course it can, but there are also different types of intelligence. A brilliant person’s success might be influenced by their personality and maturity, as well as their own ability to care for their own well-being and that of others.

Well, intelligence and wisdom need to be broken down and analyzed to gain a clearer and useful understanding. We have to recognize what’s really important. Beyond a high IQ, becoming exceptionally wise and developing clear values that go beyond cognitive or emotional reasoning is imperative.

Woman reading under a tree.


Differences between intelligence and wisdom

Oddly enough, people just started studying the difference between intelligence and wisdom. The concept of wisdom has often been associated with philosophical or spiritual disciplines. It was considered something that the great Greek masters or Buddhist monks studied.

However, a few psychologists investigated wisdom in the last few decades. These studies, like the one led by two University of California psychiatrists, Dr. Dilip V. Jeste and Dr. Thomas W. Meeks, uncovered quite a few interesting ideas.

Let’s take a look at a few differences between intelligence and wisdom.

Wisdom doesn’t comes from personal experience

This important idea busts a common myth. Many people think that experience grants wisdom. However, there’s not a strong and direct association between the length of someone’s life and how wise they are. This quality doesn’t always naturally come with age.  

Moreover, many researchers in the fields of psychology and sociology are trying to understand the social, emotional, and cognitive processes that transform experience into wisdom. There are many other mediating variables between the two, such as the ability to reflect on one’s actions. That ability may have created the experience/wisdom myth in the first place.

Experience does not always grant wisdom.

Intelligence makes you more efficient and competent

Intelligent people are efficient and have high standards. Because of this, they may get frustrated when things don’t meet their expectations. They are often goal-orientated and seek concrete results.

This viewpoint can often make them anxious. This is because people with high IQs often hace poor tolerance for uncertainty. That’s precisely what sets them apart from wise people. Wise people are better able to accept the unexpected and unplanned. They know how to step back and take a patient, relaxed, and insightful look at reality.

Wise people make better decisions

Of course, there are huge individual differences between people with a high IQ. While some make reasonable, responsible decisions, others might get carried away by goals and statistics, failing to take other factors into account.

However, if there’s one clear difference between people with high intelligence or deep wisdom, it’s that the second group is often more open-minded. This is because wisdom is more than just factual knowledge. Wise people have experience, are able to reason clearly, and are able to accept life’s ups and downs.

Wise people are also usually more cognizant of how situations develop over time, which helps them stay balanced.

A lone tree in a storm.

Intelligence can be used for good or evil

High intelligence can be used for noble ends or, on the contrary, to manipulate, conspire, betray, or create sophisticated plans for bad reasons. However, people also use their intelligence for unselfish and noble purposes.

Wisdom, on the other hand, is connected to an authentic sense of goodness. The word itself has connotations of goodness, humanity, and a sense of spirituality that inspires others to do good as well.

Wisdom is positive 

There’s one more interesting difference between intelligence and wisdom. Wisdom almost always gives you a more positive view of life, your situation, and other people. This hopeful yet resolute attitude is related to the factors mentioned above, and to kindness. Looking at a situation with wisdom can give us the energy and the motivation to move forward.

At this point, you may ask yourself which is better, being very intelligent or very wise. But neither quality is better than the other. There are plenty of wise, successful people who might not be very intelligent. However, they’re still happy and effective in their day to day life.

Therefore, aspire (as much as possible) to have both qualities. Train your cognitive abilities, improve in emotional intelligence, and integrate each experience to form a more reasonable, relaxed, and optimistic perspective.

After all, wisdom is the art of knowing what really matters and making good decisions to improve our own well-being and, more importantly, that of others. There lies the real key.