I want to introduce to you the idea that we are entering into a wisdom renaissance. Given all that has occurred politically and culturally over the last several years, this may seem like a crazy idea to some, but I am going to make my case here by pointing to some current cultural trends that are all ultimately aimed at cultivating wisdom.
Keep in mind the findings of The Berlin Wisdom Paradigm, which identified these 8 traits of the wise person:
- They are open to new experience
- They are growth-oriented
- They are creative
- They are progressive and judicial thinkers (thinking critically, with an open mind)
- They are psychologically minded (interested in the internal states of themselves and others)
- They are socially competent
- They are emotionally serene (able to manage emotions in a healthy way)
- They are other-centered (being able to view the perspectives of others)
Now as I move through my list of current cultural trends, think about how these trends are supporting the development of the traits above, and how the popularity of these trends is pointing to a wisdom renaissance. Many of us are seeking wisdom, it’s just that we have not framed it that way.
Cultural Trends that are Cultivating Wisdom
1) The Popularity of Podcasts
As of March 2021, there are over 1,750,000 podcasts and over 43 million episodes! This could be taken as an example of drowning in knowledge while starving for wisdom, but take a look at this list of the most popular podcasts of 2020. Many of these focus on deep thinking and new ideas. The current top podcast is Joe Rogan’s, with 12 million monthly listeners. While many of his guests may not be wise in the traditional sense, I do believe that most of them are sharing hard-earned wisdom by authentically sharing what is meaningful to them, which is why I think his listeners find the show so compelling. The diversity of guests also means that followers tend to be open to new experiences and perspectives- a wise personality trait.
Another example here is the highly popular Tim Ferris Show. The Show covers wide-ranging topics from personal and character development to the morning routines and meditation habits of successful people, while also covering topics like writing, venture capital, metaphysics, movies, and psychedelics. In a nutshell, he deconstructs world-class performers from eclectic areas by digging deep to find the tools, tactics, and tricks that listeners can use. Again, his guests are sharing their wisdom; and we are eating it up; co-creating the wisdom renaissance.
There are so many more very popular podcasts promoting the growth of wisdom; from those focusing on self-help and psychology, social issues, parenting, spirituality, and on and on. Here is a list of Feedspots 35 Best Wisdom-related podcasts., for a sampling of the many that are out there.
2) A Revival In The Interest of Stoicism
There is a renewed interest in wise thinkers from 2000+ years ago. The original Stoics — Seneca, Zeno, Marcus Aurelius, and Epictetus to name a few — were focused on how to live a life of virtue, a more meaningful life, a life that is inward and not outward-focused. I am not sure how an interest in stoicism came about recently, but my guess is that is it has been heavily influenced by Ryan Holiday, a former marketing executive who has written several books on stoicism and has a large social media presence @thedailystoic.
The fact that we are looking for advice from ancient philosophers leads to me feel more confident that we are beginning to see the effects that our overemphasis on left-brained, rational, scientific thinking has caused. A renewed desire to think more deeply about virtue and meaning, and going inward to find the key to happiness is a move towards more balanced thinking, where we value the strengths of the right-brain; looking at inter-connectedness and deeper understanding. This renewed desire is the spark of the wisdom renaissance. For more on this balance, see my blog post that explains the concept of the Wise Mind.
3) Exploration of Psychedelics for Therapeutic Use
The Bioneers website did a great job of summing this up~ “The use of psychedelics as therapeutic agents is a topic that had been garnering public interest and press coverage in recent years as more and more credible research is beginning to unveil their potential curative properties for a number of major psychological ailments. Michael Pollan’s new book about the subject (How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence) has now propelled the subject even further into prominence. This represents a major shift as these substances were demonized and viewed as dangerous drugs with no possible redeeming features by the authorities and mainstream cultural gatekeepers for many decades until quite recently (and they are of course still mostly illegal outside of a few officially sanctioned studies.)”
What does it say about us culturally that we are looking for ways to induce awe, have transcendent experiences, and shift our worldviews? I think it shows that many of us know that something is missing and that our previous methods for finding that something has not been particularly successful. I believe a big part of this is an attempt to find meaning in our lives; to feel connected to something greater. We are moving beyond a desire for security and happiness, to a desire for transcendence and wisdom= the wisdom renaissance.
4) The Booming Self Help Industry
According to Market Research, the self-improvement market was worth $9.9 billion in 2016 and is estimated to grow to $13.2 billion by next year. Traditionally a market aimed towards middle older adults, now Millennials are driving the growth of the self-improvement industry. 94% of millennials reported making personal improvement commitments and said they’d be willing to spend nearly $300 a month on self-improvement. These stats speak for themselves.
Another example of the popularity of self-help has been the sudden rise in popularity of the Holistic Psychologist on Instagram. Since 2018 she has gained 4.5 million followers, a large “Self Healers” membership community. It is obvious from the comments on her posts, that she is filling a need. There are many out there looking for more education and support for mental health and emotional healing. Much of her work aligns perfectly with wisdom cultivation, such as promoting self-awareness, emotional homeostasis, and healthy relationships; all traits of wise people.
5) An Increased Desire for Therapy
Connected with the rise in “Insta Psychology” is an increased desire for therapy and mental wellness support. Even back in 2018, before our pandemic fueled mental health crisis, The demand for mental health services is stronger than ever, with nearly six in 10 (56%) Americans seeking or wanting to seek mental health services either for themselves or for a loved one. That demand has increased exponentially since the pandemic began. While many people have been driven by anxiety and depression related to the pandemic, I believe that many of those folks will see the benefits gained from therapy and continue after all of this is over.
The new issue is not how to destigmatize mental health services, it is how to meet the demand for services. The increased need for mental health care means several things; one of which is that more Americans are experiencing mental health issues, which of course is not a positive trend, but on the bright side I do think it points to the fact the more of us are making our mental health and personal growth a priority in our lives. We are more aware that we need support in gained skills in dealing with life’s uncertainties. The acknowledgment of, and ability to deal with life’s uncertainties is one of the key traits of wisdom.
6) The Mindfulness Revolution
Back in 2014, Time magazine featured a cover article on The Mindful Revolution, stating that “We’re in the midst of a popular obsession with mindfulness as the secret to health and happiness—and a growing body of evidence suggests it has clear benefits.” Now 8 years later, that revolution has only gained more traction. Mindfulness is being taught in healthcare, schools, the military, and corporations.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, arguably the spark of the mindfulness revolution, says on his website www.wisdomfeed.com,
Mindfulness for all!
That is a wild thought.
But why not, when you come right down to it? Especially at this moment in time, stressed as we are individually and collectively in so many different ways, both inwardly and outwardly. And in terms of the wisdom to transform the world, it is not hyperbole. That wisdom is a potential that is wholly distributive, lying within each one of us in small but, as I hope to make clear, hardly insignificant ways. That wisdom is cultivatable through mindful- ness in ways both little and big. I have had the privilege of seeing it emerge and flourish in many different domains over the past forty years. Now, that incipient wisdom is spreading throughout the world, becoming stronger and ever more an imperative.”
Practicing mindfulness helps you think differently, and it seems apparent many of us want to change our thinking. There has been a plethora of research in recent years, extolling its benefits. We know it works, and there are no negatives side effects! Mindfulness cultivates the ability to be more present, as well as less judgmental, more patient, more open and curious, and able to see things from a new perspective; all traits that are directly correlated with increased wisdom. The mindfulness revolution is the ally of the wisdom renaissance.
7) A growing recognition of the “meaning crisis.”
One of the big 9 traits of wise people identified by Meeks and Jeste in 2013, is spirituality. While many of us associate spirituality with a belief in God, or a higher power, broadly speaking it refers to a sense of connection to something bigger than ourselves, and it typically involves a search for meaning in life.
As Clay Routledge says in his 2018 article for the New York Times “We are a species that strives not just for survival, but for significance. We want lives that matter. It is when people are not able to maintain meaning that they are most psychologically vulnerable. Empirical studies bear this out. A felt lack of meaning in one’s life has been linked to alcohol and drug abuse, depression, anxiety and -yes suicide.”
As I explored in my blog post on The Good Life, depression rates have increased tenfold over the last fifty years in the United States and anxiety rates have also risen. What the data seems to show is that the majority of us are trying to create the good life by climbing a mountain that has no peak, and we are weary. We could instead stop climbing and cultivate positive emotion, engagement, positive relationships, meaning, and accomplishment right where we are.
We are starting to realize that mountain has no peak, and that is essentially what the meaning crisis is about. We are realizing that we are lacking something essential to our happiness; something that cannot be found unless we find our connection to life in a bigger way. Turning towards what creates meaning in our lives, is turning towards wisdom; they are intimately connected.
There is a reason why the book Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl is consistently named one of the most influential books of all time; a meaningful life is absolutely necessary for well-being.
For a very deep dive into the meaning crisis see the work of cognitive psychologist John Vervaeke. He has a very comprehensive series on Youtube.
So have I convinced you? I can think of even more examples to support my theory, but I don’t want to go on and on. Of course, there are also people who have no interest in any of the above trends, but from where I see it, cultivating wisdom is a growing desire for many; even if it is not framed that way. We want to expand our thinking and integrate new ideas. We want moments of awe and feelings of connection. We are seeing that external goals and material gains are not creating true well-being. This shift gives me hope. This is the start of the wisdom renaissance.
Thanks for reading ❤
Aimee O’Neil LLMSW