The pang of loneliness is far higher than even the gloomiest of previous estimates.

Three-fourths of Americans experience moderate to high levels of loneliness, said a study from the University of California, San Diego. Previous studies found loneliness rates of 17 to 57 percent. Men and women were equally affected.

While the numbers show a larger percentage of the population experiences loneliness, the study is the first to provide clues as to how people might be able to master loneliness, by developing a better understanding of others, and of themselves.

Loneliness is distress caused by a lack of satisfactory relationships, not being alone, said study leader Dilip Jeste. A hermit may not feel lonely. Conversely, you can be lonely even when surrounded by people.

“You may be going through the motions, but you really don’t feel connected to any of them,” Jeste said. “You don’t feel you are a part of a group of friends, and not feeling close to anyone.”

Loneliness also follows people throughout their lives, the study found. Rates are especially high for people in their late 20s, mid-50s and late 80s.

And it is associated with illness. A study by insurance giant Cigna found that loneliness is as harmful to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

The good news is that the study found an antidote to loneliness: wisdom.

Wisdom is a trait similar to resilience or optimism, Jeste said. It was defined wisdom as having six components: control over emotions; compassion; self-reflection; acceptance of uncertainty and diversity of views; decisiveness; and spirituality. It allows you to learn from your mistakes and develop empathy for others. Jeste said, “Wisdom and loneliness don’t seem to coexist.”