75 Years In The Making: Harvard Just Released Its Epic Study On What Men Need To Live A Happy Life

rsz_harvardhappinessCouldn’t resist putting up this article from FEELguide, which focuses on one of the longest ever research studies. George Vaillant, who directed the study for more than three decades, has some seminal writings on alcoholism, including his book which is well worth reading.

‘In 1938 Harvard University began following 268 male undergraduate students and kicked off the longest-running longitudinal studies of human development in history.  The study’s goal was to determine as best as possible what factors contribute most strongly to human flourishing. 

The astonishing range of psychological, anthropological, and physical traits — ranging from personality type to IQ to drinking habits to family relationships to “hanging length of his scrotum” – indicates just how exhaustive and quantifiable the research data has become. 

Recently, George Vaillant, who directed the study for more than three decades, published the study’s findings in the 2012 book Triumphs of Experience and the following is the book’s synopsis:

“At a time when many people around the world are living into their tenth decade, the longest longitudinal study of human development ever undertaken offers some welcome news for the new old age: our lives continue to evolve in our later years, and often become more fulfilling than before. 

Begun in 1938, the Grant Study of Adult Development charted the physical and emotional health of over 200 men, starting with their undergraduate days.  The now-classic ‘Adaptation to Life’ reported on the men’s lives up to age 55 and helped us understand adult maturation. 

Now George Vaillant follows the men into their nineties, documenting for the first time what it is like to flourish far beyond conventional retirement.  Reporting on all aspects of male life, including relationships, politics and religion, coping strategies, and alcohol use (its abuse being by far the greatest disruptor of health and happiness for the study’s subjects), ‘Triumphs of Experience’ shares a number of surprising findings. 

For example, the people who do well in old age did not necessarily do so well in midlife, and vice versa.  While the study confirms that recovery from a lousy childhood is possible, memories of a happy childhood are a lifelong source of strength. 

Marriages bring much more contentment after age 70, and physical aging after 80 is determined less by heredity than by habits formed prior to age 50.  The credit for growing old with grace and vitality, it seems, goes more to ourselves than to our stellar genetic makeup.”

As you can imagine, the study’s discoveries are bountiful, but the most significant finding of all is that “Alcoholism is a disorder of great destructive power.” 

In fact, alcoholism is the single strongest cause of divorce between the Grant Study men and their wives.  Alcoholism was also found to be strongly coupled with neurosis and depression (which most often follows alcohol abuse, rather than preceding it). 

Together with cigarette smoking, alcoholism proves to be the #1 greatest cause of morbidity and death.  And above a certain level, intelligence doesn’t prevent the damage.

With regards to income, there was no noticeable difference in maximum income earned by men with IQs in the 110-115 range vs. men with IQs above 150.  With regards to sex lives, one of the most fascinating discoveries is that aging liberals have way more sex. 

Political ideology had no bearing on overall life satisfaction, but the most conservative men on average shut down their sex lives around age 68, while the most liberal men had healthy sex lives well into their 80s.  Vaillant writes, “I have consulted urologists about this, they have no idea why it might be so.”

In Triumphs of Experience, Vaillant raises a number of factors more often than others, but the one he refers to most often is the powerful correlation between the warmth of your relationships and your health and happiness in your later years. 

In 2009, Vaillant’s insistance on the importance of this part of the data was challenged, so Vaillant returned to the data to be sure the finding merited such important focus.  Not only did Vaillant discover that his focus on warm relationships was warranted, he placed even more importance on this factor than he had previously. 

Vallant notes that the 58 men who scored highest on the measurements of “warm relationships” (WR) earned an average of $141,000 a year more during their peak salaries (between ages 55 – 60) than the 31 men who scored the lowest in WR.  The high WR scorers were also 3-times more likely to have professional success worthy of inclusion in Who’s Who.

One of the most intriguing discoveries of the Grant Study was how significant men’s relationships with their mothers are in determining their well-being in life.  For instance, Business Insider writes:

“Men who had ‘warm’ childhood relationships with their mothers took home $87,000 more per year than men whose mothers were uncaring.  Men who had poor childhood relationships with their mothers were much more likely to develop dementia when old. 

Late in their professional lives, the men’s boyhood relationships with their mothers — but not their fathers — were associated with effectiveness at work.  On the other hand, warm childhood relations with fathers correlated with lower rates of adult anxiety, greater enjoyment on vacations, and increased ‘life satisfaction’ at age 75 – whereas the warmth of childhood relationships with mothers had no significant bearing on life satisfaction at 75.”  

In Vallant’s own words, the #1 most important finding from the Grant Study is this: “The seventy-five years and twenty million dollars expended on the Grant Study points to a straightforward five-word conclusion: Happiness is love.  Full stop.” 

You can purchase your own copy of Triumphs of Experience by visiting Amazon.’

Check out George Vailiant talking about the Harvard Grant Study.

Comments

  1. As much as I would love to simply agree with this post and enjoy a long, healthy life, I must say one thing: correlation does not mean causation. For example, I do not think that healthy relationships with mothers really affects your eventual income. Perhaps that was a side affect of them being intelligent enough to appreciate family, the same intelligence that would promote success, or maybe it was representative of their prosperity; some start-up capital that would help with going to the right schools along the way to a high paying job.

    • David Clark says:

      I would agree Nikki.

    • Why wouldn’t mimicking/forcing the good and healthy mother relationship synthesize the intelligence required to promote success? I believe evolution taught us that we are always changing based on our circumstances and effort. If you don’t believe in evolution, you may Google neurosynthesis, all the better. Why isn’t the relationship with the person who brought you into this existence a changeable reflection of the general attitude you have towards life? The only person in this world who will ever really worry about your problems as if it’s her own problems is your mother. Why wouldn’t one attempt to be at ease with the person that will always be the closest to him or her in all of existence: genetically, psychologically and physiologically? Or should one have to live with the biggest loose end of all? After all, modern psychology is based on paternal influence. Finally, I do not believe a study that was conducted by Harvard over a span of 75 years, a total number of 268 test subjects and 20 million dollars spent would include such thing as the relationship with parents if it was not a major life changing factor. Instead of trying to find a way to argue against what you do not know, you can accept your ignorance, keep an open mind and take the first step towards light and wisdom. All in the Qur’an.

    • A healthy childhood relationship with the mother is not caused by a child having the intelligence to appreciate family. It’s caused by the mother not beating or abandoning the kid senslessly, getting into drugs, bringing home a constant stream of lousy boyfriends, etc. Same for the fathers. There may be exceptional kids who get past all that, but saying “correlation is not causation” in this context is to claim that being a drugged-out abusive parent is no more harmful or helpful than being a compassionate and disciplined parent.

  2. Seems like these results were predicted a long time ago….”Honor your father and your mother,” which is the first commandment with a promise – “that it MAY GO WELL WITH YOU and that you MAY ENJOY long life on the earth” (Apostle Paul citing the 10 Commandments in his letter to the church in Ephesus).

    • like :)

    • Honoring your father and mother doesn’t have anything to do with the quality of the relationship your mother was able to have, or did have with you. Numerous studies have confirmed that those early relationships affect the structure of the brain and thus the ability to make plans, understand consequences and stick to a goal (higher income). That commandment requires a person to honor a mother or father despite the quality of the relationship. Not the same thing.

  3. Such a shame they didn’t value equality when the research started.
    You cant have a thriving human race without women.

  4. THIS OBSERVATION MAKES ME GO HMMMN? “One of the most fascinating discoveries is that aging liberals have way more sex. Political ideology had no bearing on overall life satisfaction, but the most conservative men on average shut down their sex lives around age 68, while the most liberal men had healthy sex lives well into their 80s. Vaillant writes, “I have consulted urologists about this, they have no idea why it might be so… a straightforward five-word conclusion: Happiness is love. Full stop.”

  5. Just 268 male students from one of the most privileged schools in the world, a representative study it does not make.

    • this is so true ! lets get real. following the colonizer for 75 years is not teaching anything about men more about privilege.

    • I don’t get how “With regards to income, there was no noticeable difference in maximum income earned by men with IQs in the 110-115 range vs. men with IQs above 150. ” goes together with “Harvard University began following 268 male undergraduate students”. Does it mean that Harvard has students with IQ of 110, or not all the students are from Harvard?

      • The surreal McCoy says:

        If you’ve ever walked the Hallways of an Ivy League school you know that it’s a mix of extremely bright students, extremely hard working students of medium intelligence, and a huge load of children of people with connections. Needless to say, these three groups aren’t mutually exclusive, but especially with the latter group you’ll find quite a few very mediocre kids who happen to be be born to influential parents. George Bush, for example, went to Harvard.

        • Privilege buys connections. A straight A student from the barrio has less of a chance getting anywhere than a C- student from Marin County or Beverly Hills. Less stressed mothers often have wealthy husbands. Interesting study but since men still die earlier than most women I get the impression that they are under serious stress. There no longer even mens’ clothing besides jock straps otherwise there are “female outfits” and “gender neutral” although I would have to say this too is slowly changing.

        • I don’t disagree with your point, but Bush went to Harvard biz school, not Harvard College. Even I got into a graduate school there, without money, influence, or high IQ. I never could have gotten into the undergraduate school.

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