Begun in 1938 at Harvard University, it followed 268 male undergraduate students over a 75 year period. The study’s goal was to determine as best as possible, what factors contribute most strongly to men flourishing in life. In 1967 aged 33, George Vaillant, an American Psychiatrist and Professor at Harvard, took over leadership of this research, a post he held for the next 42 years.
The study follows the men into their nineties, documenting for the first time what it’s like to flourish far beyond conventional retirement. Josh Wold Shenk writes in The Atlantic, that George’s central question surrounding this research, was not how much or how little trouble men encountered in life, but rather precisely how and to what effect they responded to that ‘trouble’.
At a time when many men are living into their tenth decade, this study of a man’s development through life, offers some welcome news – our lives often become more fulfilling in our older years. However men who do well in old age do not necessarily do so well in midlife, and vice versa.
Reporting on all aspects of male life including relationships, politics, religion, sexual health, wealth, success and coping strategies to name but a few. There are numerous insightful findings highlighted in Georges book, here are 6 most interesting and important (in my opinion):
1. Get in Shape Now to Stay in Shape Later
How men age physically after 80, is determined less by our genetic makeup than by the habits formed prior to age 50. The credit for growing old with grace and vitality, seems to be more in our hands than first thought. This is good news!
2. Warm Relationships are Vital for Higher Incomes and Happiness in Older Age
It is social aptitude, not intellectual brilliance or parental social class, that leads to successful aging” George Vaillant
George often refers throughout the book to the powerful correlation between what he calls the ‘warmth of relationships’ and your health and happiness in later years. He found that the quality of mens relationships at age 47, predict a better later-life ability to adjust to changes and challenges better than any other variable.
There also appears to be a financial benefit too as 58 men who scored highest on the measurements of “warm relationships” 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 an interview in the March 2008 newsletter to the Grant Study subjects, Vaillant was asked, “What have you learned from the Grant Study men?” Vaillant’s response:
That the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people.
3. Quit Drinking to Save Your Marriage
“Alcoholism is a disorder of great destructive power.” Vaillant writes, in fact, alcoholism is cited as the single strongest cause of divorce in the study. Alcoholism was also found to be strongly associated with neurosis and depression (which most often follow alcohol abuse, rather than preceding it).
4. High IQ doesn’t Equal Great Wealth, but Your Relationship with Your Mother Does
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. However one of the most intriguing discoveries was how significant men’s relationships with their mothers are in determining their well-being in life.
Business insider wrote “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.”
5. Liberal Men Keep it Up Longer
One of the most fascinating discoveries is that ageing 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.
The Grant Studies Most Important Finding
In George’s own words, the 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.
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