Recently, it has been demonstrated that wisdom positively predicted well-being. The paradox is that the development of wisdom is strongly linked to adverse experiences that can make a person feel “wiser but sadder”. This paper aims to test whether two types of dialogues with oneself, i.e. integrative and identity internal dialogues moderate the relationships of critical life experiences and reminiscence/reflectiveness (as components of wisdom) with psychological well-being. To check this, 202 women and 217 men completed four measures: Self-Assessed Wisdom Scale, Psychological Well-Being Scales, Internal Dialogical Activity Scale—Revised, and Scale of Integration of Perspectives. It was found that critical life experiences and reminiscence/reflectiveness poorly (usually negatively) or not at all predict the general well-being and its dimensions. Integrative and identity internal dialogues moderate these relationships: with a higher intensity of these dialogues the negative relationships weaken, insignificant ones become positively significant, and positive links strengthen. The findings can be used by psychologists to promote the development of clients’ wisdom, and consequently, well-being.
In past cross-sectional research, wisdom, especially in old age, has been shown to be positively connected with well-being (Ardelt & Edwards, 2016; Ardelt & Ferrari, 2019). For years it was unclear whether wisdom influences well-being, well-being influences wisdom, or the relationship is mutual. In a 10-month two-wave longitudinal study, Ardelt (2016) has recently demonstrated that wisdom predicted physical and subjective well-being as well as mastery, and purpose in life rather than vice versa. Similarly, Santos & Grossmann (2021) found that intrapersonal changes in wisdom-related characteristics of cognitive broadening— epistemic humility, consideration of change, and open-minded reflection on challenging situations— predicted greater affective balance and life satisfaction in later years, but not the reverse.
Through the ages, philosophers have believed that wisdom leads to a good life. However, the development of wisdom is strongly linked to difficult life experiences that can make a person feel “wiser but sadder”. Many researchers try to resolve the wisdom and well-being paradox. Weststrate & Glück (2017) claim that the level of well-being changes depending on the stage an individual is at on the developmental trajectory towards wisdom after a challenging situation, and, reciprocally, the development of wisdom varies as a function of the evolving level of well-being. They conclude that “Initially, difficult life experiences may temporarily forestall well-being while individuals do the challenging work of constructing wisdom, but over time wisdom will promote a fulfilling life” (Weststrate & Glück, 2017, p. 459). Also, Ardelt (2019) explains how well-being might be related to personality development and then discusses how the deeper insight afforded by wisdom destroys the illusion that “everything is well” but eventually leads to a more profound sense of well-being through the development of equanimity, acceptance, and gratitude. Ardelt & Jeste (2018) tried to resolve empirically the wisdom and well-being paradox. Analyses conducted on the sample of 994 adults aged 51–99 years (M = 77.3; SD = 12.2) confirmed that greater wisdom buffered the negative link between current well-being and the adverse life events experienced during the previous years. Some researchers suggest that individual wisdom increase with age in aspects such as spirituality, positivity, emotional regulation, decision-making, social reasoning, and decisiveness (Jeste & Oswald, 2014; Oldham, 2014). Such characteristics allow one to look at past difficult situations with greater understanding (e.g., social reasoning), and at the same time with greater gentleness towards oneself and others (e.g., positivity, emotional regulation, and spirituality), which may reduce the negative link between these events and current well-being. In this context, Ardelt and Jeste’s (2018) results concerning the elderly are intelligible. And what about younger people whose wisdom has not yet reached its peak? What if critical life experiences, and a proclivity to reminisce and review one’s life, are not external to wisdom (as in Ardelt and Jeste’s study), but are treated as components of wisdom? This is the case with Webster’s theory, which in this article will be adopted as the main conceptualization of wisdom and as a starting point for studying the relationship between adverse life experiences and well-being in young and middle-aged adults.
Based on the findings of previous research and theories, Webster assumed that wisdom can be defined as “the competence in, intention to, and application of, critical life experiences to facilitate the optimal development of self and others” (Webster, 2007; p. 164 ). In his opinion wisdom is a multidimensional construct. It consists of five elements such as emotional regulation, openness, humor, critical life experience, and reminiscence and reflectiveness, which will be presented below.
For many researchers (e.g., Ardelt 2003; Kramer, 1990; Orwoll & Perlmutter, 1990) emotional regulation or affect sensitivity are crucial elements of wisdom. Similarly, Webster (2003, p. 14) claims that: “Recognizing, embracing, and employing emotions in a constructive way is a benchmark of wisdom.” Second component of wisdom in his theory is openness. Since most nontrivial problems have potentially multiple solutions, being open to alternative views, information, and potential resolution strategies seems to be an important determinant of wisdom. Additionally, Webster assumes that recognizing irony, reducing stress (for oneself and others), and building prosocial bonds are ways of using humor that testify to wisdom. These three components, emotional regulation, openness, and humor have been shown to be positively related to well-being.
According to Haines et al., (2016) effective emotional regulation is essential for well-being. It has also been found that emotional stability and extraversion predict subjective well-being (Ardelt et al., 2018). In the same study openness to experiences in young adults predicted wisdom 60 years later. Also Staudinger et al., (1997) showed that openness was the key predictor of wisdom-related performance. Finally, Jayawickreme et al., (2017) found that openness and extraversion were positively related to well-being, and to a propensity to perceive stressful events as leading to wisdom. There is also documented potential of humor for the maintenance of well-being (Papousek, 2018). But what is the relationship of well-being to the remaining two components of wisdom in Webster’s approach: critical life experience, and reminiscence and reflectiveness? This question is difficult to answer unequivocally based on research to date.
Webster (2003, p. 14) is of the opinion “that it is not accumulated general experience per se that leads to wisdom, but in contrast, experiences that are difficult, morally challenging, and require (or perhaps enable) some degree of profundity”. Such kind of experiences is called critical life experiences. As being difficult and morally ambiguous, these experiences can be reminisced and reflected upon, enabling one to review one’s life and develop wisdom (Webster, 2003). In this sense, these two components of wisdom seem to be related to each other. At the same time, it can be argued that having critical life experiences and their reminiscence, due to their nature, are not conducive to high levels of well-being. This is consistent with Ardelt and Jeste’s (2018) research showing that there is a negative relationship between adverse life events in the past and current well-being, but this link may lose statistical significance being moderated. In this context, the first hypothesis was posed:
H1. Critical life experiences and reminiscence/reflectiveness poorly negatively or not at all predict overall well-being and its dimensions.
Additionally, taking into account that in the above-mentioned study by Ardelt & Jeste (2018) the negative link between critical past life events and current well-being was moderated by the reflective dimension of wisdom, I hypothesize that certain types of dialogues with oneself may also moderate this relationship. In Ardelt’s terms, the reflective wisdom dimension refers to the ability to evaluate things from different perspectives. The willingness to change one’s point of view allows one to diminish one’s subjectivity and gain distance from and/or insight into oneself (Ardelt, 2003). Such characteristics of a wise person have been shown to reduce negative well-being as a result of critical past experiences. So, what are dialogues with oneself that presumably could moderate the relationships of critical life experiences or reminiscence/reflectiveness with well-being? Dialogue with oneself (internal dialogue) means that a person adopts (at least) two different perspectives in turn and that utterances formulated (internally/silently or externally/aloud) from these perspectives respond to one another (Puchalska-Wasyl, 2020, 2022). In this article, internal dialogues will be studied as theorized by Hermans (2003; cf. Hermans & Gieser, 2012) and operationalized by Puchalska-Wasyl (2020) and Oleś (2009; Oleś et al., 2020). Hermans (2003) understands the self as a multitude of different points of view/perspectives available for a person, which are called I-positions. Each I-position is formed in a certain social context and represents a distinct voice (e.g., one’s own voice or that of a significant other, or that of a social group or culture). Because I-positions are intertwined according to the pattern of social relations, a person can have both interpersonal (external) and intrapersonal (internal) dialogues. Oleś argues that internal dialogical activity includes: confronting points of view representing various I-positions crucial to personal and/or social identity, continuing or simulating social dialogical relations in one’s own mind, and engaging in dialogues with imaginary characters (Puchalska-Wasyl et al., 2008). As people vary in their frequency of internal dialogical activity and are aware of it, Oleś (2009) proposed to consider the intensity of engaging in internal dialogues as a trait-like personality disposition and to measure it according to the individual differences approach. In line with this approach, the researcher (Oleś, 2009; cf. Oleś et al., 2020) empirically distinguished eight types of internal dialogues (identity, supportive, social, spontaneous, confronting, ruminative, maladaptive, perspective-changing). Among them, only identity dialogues show a systematic, positive though a weak relationship with well-being (Puchalska-Wasyl & Zarzycka, 2020a, b; Puchalska-Wasyl, 2022). The identity dialogue is an internal dialogue in which questions and answers are posed about identity, life values and preferences, and the meaning of life. Such dialogues serve to search for and strengthen authenticity and may precede decisions of vital importance (Oleś et al., 2020). Given that, it can be hypothesized that identity dialogues may foster a working through of critical life experiences and a revision of life in such a way as to be accompanied by higher well-being.
The second type of internal dialogue that can probably weaken the negative relationships of the two discussed wisdom components with well-being is the integrative dialogue operationalized by Puchalska-Wasyl (2020). An integrative dialogue is a type of intrapersonal dialogue distinguished by its mode and final outcome rather than its content. The process of integration, specific to this dialogue, requires that each party to the dialogue be open to the other’s point of view and be ready to consider the other’s arguments. A dialogue party presents an integrative attitude when he/she engages in these behaviors. The integrative attitudes of both parties contribute to the overall integration in the internal dialogue. As overall integration increases, the chances of developing a new, creative solution to a problem that satisfies both parties increase (Puchalska-Wasyl, 2020). According to Grossmann (2017) taking different perspectives into account and their integration, alongside intellectual humility and recognition of change and uncertainty, are the main characteristics of wise reasoning. Integrating points of view is a skill used in resolving interpersonal conflict, but it is equally important in intrapersonal conflicts, which can be experienced as frequently and acutely as the former. Intrapersonal conflicts may be linked, for example, to critical life experiences that are difficult and morally challenging. Recalling them, in turn, can renew and even intensify these conflicts. In this context, it can be hypothesized that integrative dialogues foster the resolution of such conflicts and contribute to the growth of well-being. Taking all this into account, the second hypothesis is as follows:
H2. Integrative and identity internal dialogues moderate the relationships of critical life experiences or reminiscence/reflectiveness with the general well-being and its dimensions. With a higher intensity of these dialogues, the negative relationships weaken and insignificant ones become positively significant.
2.1 Respondents and Procedure
The study included 419 adults, 202 women, and 217 men, aged between 19 and 62 years. The mean age for women was 32.26 years (SD = 9.21) and for men 33.88 years (SD = 8.72). Sixteen respondents (3.8%) had primary education and 10 participants (2.4%) had vocational education, 152 people (36.3%) had secondary education and 241 people (57.5%) had higher education. Among the participants 21.5% studied, 59.4% worked professionally, 19.1% worked and studied simultaneously. Most respondents had a partner (41.1%) or a spouse (20.0%), 35.0% were single, 2.9% were divorced and 1.0% were widowed; 20.3% of the sample were parents. Among the participants, 57.8% came from large cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants, 21.2% came from smaller cities, and 21.0% came from rural areas.
The data were collected through a web survey, links to which were posted on social networks (Facebook, Instagram) and online forums. The respondents were informed that the study concerns wisdom, as well as about anonymity and the possibility of opting out at any stage of the research. The procedure was approved by the Research Ethics Committee at the university where the study was carried out.
Four measures were used in the order presented below and their internal consistency obtained in this study is presented in Table 1.
The Self-Assessed Wisdom Scale (SAWS). This scale by Webster (2003, 2007) contains 40 items rated on a 6-point Likert scale, from 1 (strongly disagree) to 6 (strongly agree). The items reflect the five aspects of wisdom defined as presented in the Introduction: Critical Life Experience, Emotional Regulation, Reminiscence and Reflectiveness, Humor, and Openness. Each aspect (subscale) is represented by 8 items. However, in the Polish adaptation of SAWS used (Brudek et al., 2022), only four items are diagnostic in Openness (see lower Cronbach’s alpha - Table 1). In the current study, apart from subscale scores also the total score measuring the overall wisdom was analyzed.
The Psychological Well-Being Scales (PWBS). This scale by Ryff (1989) consist of 84 items rated on a 6-point Likert scale, from 1 (strongly disagree) to 6 (strongly agree). The items concern the six components of psychological well-being: (1) Autonomy - independence and self-direction, judging oneself by personal standards, not yielding to external pressures; (2) Environmental Mastery - sense of agency and competence, ability to transform one’s environment according to one’s needs and values; (3) Personal Growth - improving one’s skills, realizing one’s potential, searching for ways of further development; (4) Positive Relations with Others - ability to experience love, empathy, and warm and trusting relationships; (5) Purpose in Life - being productive and creative; the belief that one’s life is directed toward an important goal, convictions that provide a sense of meaning in life; (6) Self-Acceptance - positive and realistic attitude towards oneself, acceptance of one’s own advantages and disadvantages. Each component (subscale) is represented by 14 items. A Polish adaptation of the PWBS (Karaś & Cieciuch, 2017) was used. In the current study, apart from subscale scores also the total score measuring the overall well-being was analyzed.
The Internal Dialogical Activity Scale—Revised (IDAS-R). This scale by Oleś (2009; Oleś et al., 2020) contains 40 items, 5 items in each of the eight subscales. The respondent assesses items using a 5-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (never) to 5 (very often). The subscales refer to the following types of internal dialogues: (1) Identity; (2) Maladaptive; (3) Social; (4) Supportive; (5) Spontaneous; (6) Ruminative; (7) Confronting; and (8) Change of perspective. In this study only the Identity dialogues scale was analyzed. Identity dialogue was defined as presented in the Introduction.
The Scale of Integration of Perspectives (SIP). This scale consist of 7 items rated on a 5-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (never) to 5 (very often). The method was designed by Puchalska-Wasyl on the basis of her approach to integration and confrontation as two independent dimensions on which internal dialogue can be described (Puchalska-Wasyl, 2016, 2022). The scale measures the tendency to have integrative internal dialogues understood as presented in the Introduction.
2.3 Statistical Analysis
All moderation analyses were conducted using PROCESS, model 1 (Hayes, 2018). Unstandardized indirect effects were calculated for each of the 5,000 bootstrapped samples and the corresponding 95% confidence intervals were established. As suggested by the PROCESS macro, the conditional effects of the predictor were tested at low (16th percentile), medium (50th percentile) and high (84th percentile) moderator values. Other analyses were carried out using SPSS v.27.
First, descriptive statistics for all the variables measured in the study were computed (means and standard deviations are presented in Table 1). Then the assumptions of normality were checked. Using the Kolmogorov–Smirnov test with Lilliefors correction it was found that only the general score on the SAWS met the assumptions of normality. Therefore, in the next step the skewness was analyzed. All the scores on the subscales of the SAWS and Identity and Integrative dialogues scales, as well as the three subscales of the PWBS (Environmental Mastery, Personal Growth, and Self-Acceptance) were slightly negatively skewed (from − 0.02 to -0.73). The remaining subscales of the PWBS and its general score were slightly positively skewed (from 0.01 to 0.35). All the skewness coefficients were between − 1 and 1, thus indicating a small skewness that could be ignored (George & Mallery, 2010).
Next, Pearson bivariate correlations for all the variables measured in the research were computed (Table 1). It was found that the general score of wisdom (SAWS) and its three components – Emotional Regulation, Humor, and Openness – systematically correlated positively with the general score and all the dimensions of well-being. However, Critical Life Experiences and Reminiscence/Reflectiveness correlated very weakly (positively or negatively) or not at all with well-being. The only exception was the positive moderate correlation between Critical Life Experiences and Personal Growth as a dimension of well-being.
In order to verify H1 seven regression analyses were conducted. The enter method was used because it is recommended for exploring relationships, which was the case in this study (Tabachnik & Fidell, 2007). In each regression analysis wisdom components act as predictors, whereas general well-being and its dimensions were the subsequent dependent variables (Table 2). There were no multicollinearity problem: the variance inflation factors (VIF) ranged from 1.355 to 1.690 and tolerance indices ranged from 0.592 to 0.738 for particular potential predictors.
According to H1 Critical Life Experiences and Reminiscence/Reflectiveness weakly negatively or not at all predict overall well-being and its dimensions. The hypothesis was partially confirmed. As expected, Reminiscence/Reflectiveness was none or a poor negative predictor of well-being. The same pattern was observed for Critical Life Experiences with one exception: this aspect of wisdom was a weak positive predictor of Personal Growth.
Regardless of the hypothesis, it was also found that Emotional Regulation and Humor were positive predictors of well-being, which was consistent with the previous studies mentioned in the Introduction. However, unexpectedly, Openness turned out to be a positive but weak predictor only for Personal Growth.
According to H2 integrative and identity internal dialogues moderate the relationships of Critical Life Experiences or Reminiscence/Reflectiveness with the general score on well-being and its dimensions. It was also hypothesized that with a higher intensity of these dialogues with oneself, the negative relationships weaken and insignificant ones become positively significant.
H2 was verified using moderation analyses (Table 3). First, the conditional effects of the predictor (Critical Life Experiences) were tested at values of the low (16th percentile), medium (50th percentile), and high (84th percentile) levels of the moderator (initially integrative dialogue, then identity dialogue), while the dependent variables were well-being and its dimensions sequentially. Next, the same template for analyses was repeated with regard to Reminiscence/Reflectiveness as a predictor.
Since two different moderation patterns were hypothesized in H2, so the results of the analyses will be presented below in such a way as to first show which negative relationships between the two dimensions of wisdom and well-being weaken moderated by integrative and identity dialogues; and then which insignificant relationships become positively significant.
The first pattern occurred three times. It was found that the relationships of Reminiscence/Reflectiveness with Autonomy and Reminiscence/Reflectiveness with Self-Acceptance were negative at low intensity of integrative dialogues, but the relationships lost significance at medium and high intensity of these dialogues. An identical scheme was observed for the relationship between Reminiscence/Reflectiveness and Self-Acceptance, which was moderated by identity dialogues.
The second pattern turned out to be very common. With a low level of identity and integrative dialogues, Critical Life Experiences showed no significant correlation with the general score on well-being. However, with moderate and high intensity of these two dialogue types, the relationship was positive. An identical pattern of moderation by these two types of dialogues was observed for the relationships of Reminiscence/Reflectiveness with Personal Growth and Reminiscence/Reflectiveness with Positive Relations. According to an analogous scheme, integrative dialogues moderated the relationship of Critical Life Experiences with Autonomy and Critical Life Experiences with Purpose in Life.
The Critical Life Experiences and Autonomy relationship was also found to be moderated by identity dialogues, such that at their low and medium intensities the relationship was insignificant, but became positively significant at high intensities. The same pattern was seen for the relationship between Reminiscence/Reflectiveness and general score on well-being, moderated by integrative dialogues. All the moderations described confirm H2.
In addition, since Critical Life Experiences and Personal Growth were positively related, a third moderation pattern was observed. Identity dialogues moderated this positive relationship in such a way that as the dialogues intensified, the link also became stronger.
The purpose of the study was to verify two hypotheses. First, it was hypothesized (H1) that critical life experiences and reminiscence/reflectiveness poorly negatively or not at all predict overall well-being and its dimensions. Generally, this hypothesis was confirmed. The only exception was that critical life experiences as an aspect of wisdom was a weak positive predictor of personal growth as a dimension of well-being. This finding can be better understood in the context of research on posttraumatic growth (PTG). Tedeschi & Calhoun (2004, p. 1) conceptualize PTG as a “positive psychological change experienced as a result of the struggle with highly challenging life circumstances”. One of the domains of PTG discussed by the authors is personal strength, which is “experienced as a combination of the clear knowledge that bad things can and do happen and the discovery that ‘if I handled this then I can handle just about anything’.” (Tedeschi & Calhoun, 2004, p. 6). This belief in oneself and one’s life fosters openness to life’s various events. It is conceivable that this may also stimulate personal growth defined by Ryff (1989) as a tendency to actualize oneself and realize one’s potentialities, as well as readiness to confront new challenges.
Additionally, the presented regression analyses showed that humor and emotional regulation as wisdom aspects positively predicted the general well-being and all its dimensions. These findings are in agreement with the other studies. Papousek (2018) discussed the role of humor for the maintenance of well-being. Haines et al., (2016) showed that the ability to regulate emotions was crucial for well-being. Similarly, Ardelt et al., (2018) found that subjective well-being was predicted by emotional stability (and extraversion). Some studies also emphasized the positive link between openness and well-being as well as the propensity to perceive stressful events as leading to wisdom (Jayawickreme et al., 2017). However, in this research openness was a positive but weak predictor only for personal growth. The result does not contradict previous studies, but it is puzzling why openness did not turn out to be a predictor of other dimensions of well-being. It is possible that the outcome is a consequence of the low reliability of the Openness subscale in my study, so further research in this area is needed.
In line with H2 integrative and identity internal dialogues moderate the relationships of critical life experiences or reminiscence/reflectiveness with the general well-being and its aspects. It was hypothesized that with a higher intensity of these dialogues, the negative links weaken and insignificant ones become positively significant. H2 was fully confirmed.
In light of results obtained, the mere fact of a critical experience and its reminiscence is not the same as acquiring wisdom that favours well-being (Ardelt, 2016; Ardelt & Edwards, 2016; Ardelt & Ferrari, 2019). As Weststrate & Glück (2017) note, initially, adverse events may temporarily inhibit well-being. However, if a person makes the effort to build wisdom, over time that wisdom will promote a satisfying life. Additionally, Ardelt & Jeste (2018) showed that reflective dimension of wisdom buffered the inverse link between the experience of hardship events and well-being. Importantly, Ardelt (2003) assumes that reflective wisdom is the ability to assess situations from different perspectives. The readiness to change one’s viewpoint allows one to reduce one’s subjectivity and gain distance from and/or insight into oneself. Thus, a wise person sees life without distortion. This suggests that in order for a difficult experience to build wisdom, it must be subject to particular reflection that requires analyzing the problem from different viewpoints. This conclusion is consistent not only with the thinking of Ardelt (2003; Ardelt & Jeste, 2018). Other researchers also claim that wisdom precludes an unidimensional view of reality, since its essence is the search for balance (Sternberg, 1998), integration, and appreciation of the wider perspective in looking at oneself and the world (Grossmann, 2017). Gaining balance and integration is possible owing to internal dialogues. Critical life experiences, being difficult and morally challenging, involve both interpersonal and intrapersonal conflicts, which can be renewed and intensified by recollection. Integrative dialogues seem to be a way to resolve such conflicts by finding a solution that can be judged satisfactory by each of the dialogue parties (Puchalska-Wasyl, 2020). Consequently, integrative dialogues help work through difficult experiences and contribute to the growth of well-being. In turn, identity dialogues allow us to understand how hardships expose our weaknesses, but also how they shape our strengths and create identity (cf. Oleś, 2009). Both types of dialogues promote multifaceted evaluation of adverse events, which results in their acceptance, increased wisdom and well-being.
Glück & Weststrate (2022) in their recent article propose an integrative model of wise behavior in real life. The core proposition of the model is that in challenging real-life situations, noncognitive wisdom components (an exploratory orientation, concern for others, and emotion regulation) moderate the effect of cognitive components (knowledge, metacognitive capacities, and self-reflection) on wise behavior. Thus, for an individual to benefit from the cognitive aspects of wisdom, the personality aspects must be present at the appropriate intensity. This raises the question of whether and possibly how to relate internal dialogues to this model. On the one hand, a person conducting integrative and identity dialogues resembles wise individuals characterized by an exploratory orientation. As Glück & Weststrate (2022) argue such wise people find perspectives that differ from their own informative and interesting, rather than challenging or threatening. In difficult situations, they are able to acknowledge, tolerate and consider various perspectives involved. As a result, their wisdom increases in the long run, since they gain new insights through reflection on experiences. On the other hand, awareness and consideration of divergent perspectives is treated as a metacognitive capacity in the integrative model. It is understood as the willingness and ability to take into account and accept different points of view, goals, and values. Wise people are fully aware of how life contexts and experiences shape people’s perspectives. This ability appears to be essential in integrative dialogues. In turn, self-reflection, which may be more associated with identity dialogues, according to Glück & Weststrate (2022), means that individuals are willing and able to reflect on their own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, aiming to overcome blind spots and self-serving biases so as to be guided but not controlled by them.
In this context, the question arises: Are integration and identity internal dialogues a cognitive variable and can they be equated with metacognitive capacities or self-reflection? First of all, people can analyze a problem from many angles in many ways and come to self-knowledge in different paths to reduce self-serving biases. It does not have to be solely an internal dialogue that involves a person alternately adopting at least two different perspectives and giving them voice; consequently, utterances formulated (internally/silently or externally/aloud) from these perspectives respond to each other (Puchalska-Wasyl, 2020, 2022). Various aspects of the self or situation can be analyzed using not only dialogical but also categorical thinking (Borawski, 2011). Second, considering intrapersonal dialogues exclusively as a manifestation of metacognitive capacities or self-reflection seems unwarranted, as research shows that internal dialogues are related to personality traits (Oleś & Puchalska-Wasyl, 2012; Puchalska-Wasyl et al., 2008).
If so, are integrative and identity dialogues personality variables and can they be reduced to the exploratory orientation? Indeed, previous studies have shown that the general tendency to conduct internal dialogues is related to openness. However, not all open people have internal dialogues, since the correlation between these two variables ranged from 0.27, p < 0.001 in adolescents to 0.54, p < 0.001 in middle-aged adults (Oleś & Puchalska-Wasyl, 2012). In addition, another personality trait associated with internal dialogues turned out to be neuroticism (r = 0.34, p < 0.001; Oleś & Puchalska-Wasyl 2012). A stepwise regression analysis, in which five personality traits were independent variables, revealed that 28% of the variance in the total score on the IDAS (a previous version of the IDAS-R used in this study) was explained by a linear combination of openness and neuroticism (Puchalska-Wasyl et al., 2008). Moreover, a positive correlation was found between the general score on the IDAS and the anxious attachment style (Oleś & Puchalska-Wasyl, 2012). Finally, a recent study using the IDAS showed that certain types of internal dialogues were positively (although weakly) related to some pathological personality traits (Łysiak, 2019). Taking this into account, the internal dialogues cannot be reduced to the manifestation of exploratory orientation as a noncognitive component of wisdom.
To sum up, internal dialogical activity is not a homogeneous phenomenon. The current study shows that against the background of other types, integrative and identity dialogues stand out as dialogues that promote self-development. Generally, intrapersonal dialogues are embedded in personality variables (i.e., openness and neuroticism) however, their mode and outcome may also depend on the cognitive variables mentioned by Glück & Weststrate (2022), i.e.: the ability to take divergent perspectives, respect different viewpoints and goals associated with them and explore them without self-serving bias. Studies show that high neuroticism is accompanied by ruminative dialogues (r = 0.44, p < 0.001) whereas high openness by identity dialogues (r = 0.57, p < 0.001) (Oleś & Puchalska-Wasyl, 2012). Presumably, the former will be additionally accompanied by low intensity of metacognitive capacities and self-reflection, and the latter by high intensity. Of course, more research is needed. However, this thinking is partially supported by recent findings according to which identity dialogues are the only type of internal dialogues that highly authentic people have more often in comparison with those who are less authentic (Puchalska-Wasyl, 2022). At the same time, as Kernis and Goldman claim (2006), authenticity involves (among others) knowledge of one’s multifaceted self and acceptance of one’s potentially contradictory self-aspects (awareness) as well as the relative absence of interpretive distortions in the processing of self-relevant information (unbiased processing).
With reference to the integrative model by Glück & Weststrate (2022), dialogues with oneself can be viewed as a bridge between noncognitive and cognitive components of wisdom. According to this model, internal dialogical activity, like many other behaviors, could be assessed in terms of manifestations of wisdom in challenging real-life situations. This also means that in future studies, the characteristics of internal dialogues could be tested depending on the cognitive and noncognitive variables proposed in the model.
All the outcomes must be interpreted in the light of the shortcomings of current research. The first limitation of this study is its cross-sectional character, which excludes the formulation of causal claims. Indeed, I assumed that wisdom predicts well-being and not vice versa, but this has been done based on other findings (Ardelt, 2016; Santos & Grossmann, 2021). Another weakness is that participants may have been aware that the questionnaire they were filling out was about wisdom (before the survey began, they were informed that wisdom was the subject of the study). This may have intensified the bias of their responses towards the more “wise” and socially desirable. The results could be different for a performance-based wisdom measure that is less affected by social desirability variable. On the other hand, the possible bias may have been mitigated by the anonymity of the study. An additional limitation of the study is the low reliability of the Openness subscale. Consequently, further study is required to confirm the presented finding that openness is a weak positive predictor of personal growth, while it does not predict the other dimensions of well-being. As it is the first research on wisdom, well-being and internal dialogues, the results need replication, preferably using alternative methods and samples including people of different ages and cultures. In future research it would be also worth exploring if demographic or lifestyle variables have any impact on relationships between wisdom, well-being, and internal dialogues.
4.2 Practical Implications
The present study has some practical implications. It shows that critical experiences, which are an inevitable part of life, can become a source of wisdom and foster psychological well-being, but this does not happen automatically. What is necessary is multifaceted reflection to make adverse events meaningful in the context of one’s identity and to resolve internal conflicts in a way that meets the needs of all aspects of the self. This is possible by means of identity and integrative internal dialogues, which can serve as a simple and inexpensive instrument for use in psychological counselling and psychotherapy (Hermans & Dimaggio, 2004; Pollard, 2008). The findings can be used by psychologists to promote the development of clients’ wisdom, and consequently, well-being. These results can also be an incentive to work on oneself, particularly for people who have internal dialogues in their daily life but have not consciously used them as tools for self-development until now.
It has been shown that in general internal dialogues are embedded in personality variables (i.e. openness and neuroticism) (Oleś & Puchalska-Wasyl, 2012), while integrative and identity dialogues are particularly associated with the trait of openness (also in this study their correlation with openness as an aspect of wisdom was found). The traits as relatively stable appear quite difficult to change, but in order to develop integrative and identity dialogues, it is useful to activate open-mindedness and work on the cognitive variables mentioned by Glück & Weststrate (2022) in their model of wisdom, such as the ability to take different perspectives, respect a diversity of positions/objectives and explore them without self-serving bias. It also seems important to train these abilities from an early age. It is worthwhile for children to be introduced to a variety of standpoints, ways of living and cultures, to be encouraged to develop their own viewpoints, and to be actively involved in finding solutions to different problems.
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Special thanks go to Jowita Tomczak and Natalia Nowakowska for their assistance in the research.
Conflict of Interest
Małgorzata M. Puchalska-Wasyl declares that she has no conflict of interest.
All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. The Research Ethics Committee at The John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin approved the study (KEBN_45/2021).
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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.
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Puchalska-Wasyl, M.M. Do Wisdom and Well-Being Always Go Hand in Hand? The Role of Dialogues with Oneself. J Happiness Stud 24, 1059–1074 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-023-00621-x
- Dialogue with oneself
- Internal dialogue
- Integrative dialogue
- Identity dialogue