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Triumphs of Experience: The Men of the Harvard Grant Study

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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 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.


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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 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.

30 review for Triumphs of Experience: The Men of the Harvard Grant Study

  1. 4 out of 5

    Suzanne Stroh

    Here we meet WASP men at work and play, and a little bit in love. Proving the paramount importance of love in a cold climate. This book reports on the groundbreaking Harvard Grant study of educated American white men's lives and health, begun in 1937, that is still active today. The study tries to define optimal male health not just by gathering physical data from its 200-plus subjects, many of whom are still alive into their nineties, but also by tracking achievements (attainments) that can be m Here we meet WASP men at work and play, and a little bit in love. Proving the paramount importance of love in a cold climate. This book reports on the groundbreaking Harvard Grant study of educated American white men's lives and health, begun in 1937, that is still active today. The study tries to define optimal male health not just by gathering physical data from its 200-plus subjects, many of whom are still alive into their nineties, but also by tracking achievements (attainments) that can be measured. Yes, this is a goal oriented study of a process called living well. Its longtime director (who also spent a significant period directing the complimentary Glueck study of "inner city" (read: urban, working class, non-WASP Boston) men) makes a passionate and persuasive case for funding more studies like this. He exhaustively reminds us of the social and scientific value of longitudinal studies, schooling us in the difference between prospective data (what you collect along the way, giving real-time snapshots of the lives of your subjects) and retrospective data (the stuff your subjects report to you about their pasts). The aim of the study was to choose healthy, 19 year-old American male subjects (because men don't change their surnames and so you could track them better, Vaillant explains!) in an effort to define and possibly predict health over a lifetime. Its secondary goal was to paint portraits of optimal male health at every stage of life--to model adult development, which had never before been studied scientifically. It was a study designed to benefit the Army gearing up for WW2. It was seed-funded by a forward-thinking entrepreneur, retail tycoon W.T. Grant, who wanted to identify great managers. When his practical aims repeatedly clashed with the eugenics-keen Harvard scientists, the Grant funding dried up. Tobacco funding stepped in, just like in "Mad Men," with grantors mining the data for habits and motivations that could sell cigarettes. And so the study limped along, never really gaining the financial footing it needed or deserved, but always shepherded by researchers mindful of its rarity value. Psychiatrist George Vaillant was among them, a passionate seeker of wisdom through "scientific" data. Ironically, the W.T. Grant Foundation is among the sustaining donors again today. The study is now doing brain studies and collecting DNA samples from subjects who are still alive. The Harvard Grant study itself is now thriving into its seventh decade. Quite an achievement. The findings of this study so far are startling and profound. They offer the best known proof of the major role that love and secure attachment play in human health. Everybody hoping to live a good life will get something out of this book.i agree with anther reviewer that 60 year olds may be the target readers. But the book is also an important document for readers who want to see the flaws of "the helping professions" up close and personal. It is as much about the people who designed and administered the study as the study itself. And these doctors and scientists were not always wise or profound, or even insightful, even though they were seeking the source of wisdom and longevity. There is a Puritanical American bias and a focus on business, medicine and law that is particularly galling. The men studied were all born around 1918, the end of WWI that marked the rise of the US to world primacy after WW2. But where else would a sample of 19 year old men be chosen where two-thirds of the youths are terrified of sex at 19 and where none appeared to have had any sexual experience? The problem compounded itself when subjects refused to return questionnaires that asked about their sex lives. In my view, the problem lay with the researchers themselves, who seemed just as prudish. Why didn't they inform the subjects that joining the study meant responding to questions about sex--a biological drive--and what on earth is "sexual adjustment?" The subjects were asked about this, but who knows what it means? These men came to Harvard with a wide variety of social backgrounds. Most, of course, had considerable aptitude and some arrived with notable achievements, but they and their researchers all appeared to be boys (not very independent) pretty sheltered from developmental experiences (like falling in love, bonding during peacetime and wartime, and sexual initiation) that were de rigeur for their European counterparts. They are youthful life experiences that today's teenagers take for granted, and this definitely makes a reader wonder about the universality (if not relevancy) of many conclusions for living people under 50. The eugenic biases of 1937 led to the appointment of researchers who measured scrotums and craniums but never asked about friendships or girlfriends, let alone boyfriends, for decades. This data turns out to fuel the core finding--that finding love alone (not status or money or lifelong monogamy in marriage) is universally or at least significantly linked to a long, happy life. As better statisticians have commented in their reviews, the 1937-1941 selection methodology (how they chose whom to study) had problems that weaken some of the statistical analysis. Which parts? I would love to read an article for general readers that explains this weakness more clearly. It is unfortunate that all we get are data from white Harvard College men. There is not a single adoptee, person of color or mature, healthy woman described in full, either by the study or in the story of its analysis. Anthropologist Margaret Mead is quoted for saying she had three successful marriages, but George Vaillant must know that they were all underlain by Mead's lifelong and much more passionate love affair with a woman. The quote gives the false impression that Mead was hetero and monogamous. The whole subject of sexual exclusivity (monogamy) as a component of a "happy marriage" is given short shrift in a study that was designed to observe happy marriages. In response, only an emoticon will do: ?????? I was astounded by many of the assumptions that underpinned the questionnaires administered to the men. The goal oriented approach had me rolling my eyes throughout. "Fatherhood" seemed like a totem notch--something attained, presumably through the acquisition of a helpmeet wife and the privilege of ejaculating inside her, because it was never shown to have been worked at. And statistics show that men worldwide father twice as many children than they claim paternity of. Why wasn't this very common human story reflected in any of the men's lives reported in the book? None of the questionnaires asked about the details of parenting, asked whether the subject had ever done any primary parenting, or dealt satisfactorily with the effects of parenting on health and marriage. Since fathering and a good marriage were among the measured outcomes of optimum health, I found this generally naive and often even mysogenistic. It also posed problems when I tried to understand the causes of divorce (besides alcoholism). Did divorce tend to happen before or after children were born? How old were children when divorces happened? Isn't it likely that married fathers' health depends hugely on the life stages, attainments and challenges of their wives, the mothers of their children? We know from another study, for instance, that divorced men nearly always want to remarry, while divorced women nearly always do not. We also know that married men's blood pressure goes down as they drive up the driveway at home; women's blood pressure goes sky high. For couples who stay together in long marriages, these factors and more must certainly affect men's health. I would like to read more about this inter relativity. The author's love of Shakespeare, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky endeared me to him, but he made little convincing mention of the discoveries made in music, language, culture and ethnography, philosophy, painting, exploration, history, biography, or any of the decorative arts and sciences when grounding the findings in what we already know to have been observed by masters of the humanities. This study has not yet produced that depth of humanity and nuance in exploring lifetimes scientifically. Art remains the truer and deeper record of beautiful, meaningful human lives well lived. As a woman, an adoptee and a lesbian, searching for wisdom in this study often felt like learning to appreciate Broderie Anglaise--the art of the hole. An adoptee needs to understand, for instance, why the early death of a maternal grandfather predicts bad health for an adult American man. Yes, we need many more and more widely varied studies like this one. Good health is more important to study than bad. This book has convinced me. Every generation of explorers will lead flawed approaches. Only with a lot of committed explorers worldwide will we finally begin to really map the territory of rich long lives being beautifully led everywhere on Earth. I find, having read this book, that I am more interested, not less, in pioneers like George Vaillant. I want to see the magnificence that we get glimmers of here. I want to see it in boys and girls, women as well as men. I want to see it in full before I die. And on the basis of engendering that hope alone, this book gets four stars from me.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Meyer

    This is a fantastic book, but it really has a target audience. If you are a successful, college, male graduate who has choices about what you do and how you live, this book as interesting insight. What decisions that people made at different times in their life ended up being most important. If you have that opportunity financially, educationally and personally, read this book. If you're not in that position, this book's probably not so interesting. This is a fantastic book, but it really has a target audience. If you are a successful, college, male graduate who has choices about what you do and how you live, this book as interesting insight. What decisions that people made at different times in their life ended up being most important. If you have that opportunity financially, educationally and personally, read this book. If you're not in that position, this book's probably not so interesting.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Catherine Read

    This is such an important work. One of the only longitudinal studies of its kind, this follows a cohort of Harvard men from the ages of 19 to over 90 in a study that spans over 75 years. It is enlightening in so many ways and the style of the author (and study researcher) George Vaillant is so engaging to read. He is about 15 years younger than the study subjects and as they grew and matured, so did he. He came to his own realizations about what adult development means in very concrete terms, an This is such an important work. One of the only longitudinal studies of its kind, this follows a cohort of Harvard men from the ages of 19 to over 90 in a study that spans over 75 years. It is enlightening in so many ways and the style of the author (and study researcher) George Vaillant is so engaging to read. He is about 15 years younger than the study subjects and as they grew and matured, so did he. He came to his own realizations about what adult development means in very concrete terms, and what it takes to flourish throughout one's life. There were some surprises and unexpected twists and turns along the way. There is so much data that was collected over the years that has proven useful in this type of prospective study. The research tools and methodology have developed and shifted over the years and will continue to do so. Technology has enabled a more sophisticated tabulation of all this data than what the study was able to do when it started back in 1938. Vaillant believes that further technology innovation will also shed even greater light on this type of lifetime study. They have already begun to use neuroimaging and fMRI's. As it turns out, one of the unintended consequences of the constant struggle for funding of the research study was the receipt of a grant to study Alcohol Use. The book represents the most comprehensive study of alcoholism ever undertaken and its conclusions are startling. I believe that whoever reads this book will derive benefit from it on so many levels. It sheds a great deal of light on real human behavior and what affects human growth and development over a lifetime of 90 years. Some of it we can affect with our own choices and some of it seems to be hereditary - like the gene for alcoholism. I highly recommend the book. I can't wait for other people to read it so we can talk about it!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Michael Huang

    Vaillant is the current director for the Harvard Grant study of 268 men, chosen over 4 years from Sophomores in Harvard from 1938 to 1941 and followed through decades. This longitudinal study found out many things about human development. The book is not necessarily as well written as it can be, but the study itself is immensely valuable for those who care about quality of life. Some big takeaways (Ch. 11) are: 1. A warm childhood was a most important predictive factor (over wealth, health of fa Vaillant is the current director for the Harvard Grant study of 268 men, chosen over 4 years from Sophomores in Harvard from 1938 to 1941 and followed through decades. This longitudinal study found out many things about human development. The book is not necessarily as well written as it can be, but the study itself is immensely valuable for those who care about quality of life. Some big takeaways (Ch. 11) are: 1. A warm childhood was a most important predictive factor (over wealth, health of family etc). But a bad childhood is not an important factor (it can be overcome). 2. The most important contributor to joy and success in adult life is love (or in theoretical term: attachment). 3. The 2nd greatest contributor (to joy & success) is the involuntary adaptive “mechanisms of defense”. (Basically how Stoical you are). Throughout the book, there are specifics of some individual’s life. But statistically, they were graded on a 10 pt scale from 65 to 80 years of age (p. 31). We can see what kind of person gets good score. Much of what we learn from the study is a repeating pattern of what factor is highly correlated with later life success. The subjects were not random, but rather promising individuals as the original intention of the study was to find out who might become good managers. And the view back then was biological determinism. The study reveals essentially “nurture trumps nature”. But keep in mind, these people were not random samples which in later years have quite similar occupations (p. 88). Ch. 4 How childhood and adolescence affect old age. What kind of childhood predicts later life success? Well, it’s complicated. Not one thing predicts. It’s the totality of the experience does. (Surprise surprise.) A good predictor of healthy middle life (but not later) is “practical and organized”. For later life, the predictor is “well integrated”. Lots of things have no predictive power: distance in age between subject and the next child. Even the death of a parent, a cold, rejecting mother failed to predict later life emotional illness or poor aging. Some interesting tidbits: poor mothering is associated with dementia, poor fathering is associated with poor marriage (p. 134). One task of last half of life is recover memory of love of 1st half. Rediscovery of love and power to forgive are healing. Ch. 5 Maturation Neural science shows that cognition and passion work in concert more as one matures (p. 147, p. 170). The author adapted Erikson’s notion and showed that development “stages” are really “tasks” that overlap and take a long time: • Identity and identity diffusion: knows who’s who and no longer a small kid. • Intimacy and isolation (the capacity to form your own family e.g., marriage) • Commitment and compensation (work) • Generativity: (capacity to foster and guide the next generation) • Guardianship: (responsibility for the culture) Ch. 6 Marriage (not very remarkable, one person said his weakness is no leaning on anyone) Ch. 7 Living to Ninety. • We are experiencing “compression of morbidity”: we live vitally to 85 or 90 and then dying quickly. • Some lost brain matter is the result of pruning. Fewer than half of synapses at 21 than at 5. • 80% of 90+ yr old eat red meat. Less than 50% each fruit weekly. Survival is not as simple as wellness gurus would have us believe. • Factors associated with longevity: post-graduate education (p. 250), self motivation (p. 249), no vascular risk factors (p. 246). Exercise and health are correlated, but health predicts exercise better than the other way around. • The story of a subject (Garrick) who scored poorly early in the study but starting from 60 lived fully until he died at 96. Ch. 8 Resilience and Unconscious Coping • Coping with stress and negative emotions have a hierarchy from least to most mature: a. Psychotic: denial, distortion of reality (common in young children) b. Immature defenses: acting out, dissociation, projection, etc. c. Intermediate defenses: intellectual i action (separation of idea from the emotion) d. Mature defense: altruism, anticipation, humor, sublimation (finding gratifying alternative), suppression (keeping a stiff upper lip) — all these are taught by the Stoics • The defense mechanism change over age of course, but can be learned and practiced and is not correlated with IQ, social class etc. Maturity of defense style predictive future mental health. In fact, some psychologist goes as far as saying there is no mental disease, only characteristic reactions. Ch. 9 Alcoholism • Gene matters more than environment • Once it gets out of control, it does not necessarily get worse, but it seldom gets better. Ch. 10 Surprising findings • Socioeconomic status predicts group longevity. • PTSD is not predicted by combat intensity, but by coping style (p. 334) • Politically, people are bimodally distributed • Maternal grandfather’s age at death significantly correlated with mental health of study subject (all male).

  5. 5 out of 5

    Sanju

    Loving this book. Fascinating, fascinating ... I was drawn to this book in particular because of the learnings on male development as outlined by Vaillant. But, aside from that, there seems to be a societal attitude that men are privileged and hence require research on their physical well-being but not so much on their long-term emotional well-being. However, increasingly, from many directions, the conclusion that physical well-being, the ability to thrive into old age physically cannot be divorc Loving this book. Fascinating, fascinating ... I was drawn to this book in particular because of the learnings on male development as outlined by Vaillant. But, aside from that, there seems to be a societal attitude that men are privileged and hence require research on their physical well-being but not so much on their long-term emotional well-being. However, increasingly, from many directions, the conclusion that physical well-being, the ability to thrive into old age physically cannot be divorced from emotional well-being. Moreover, emotional well-being is rooted early on in a person's development. Moreover, the attitude that because most societies have been patriarchal and therefore males feel no emotional vulnerability is just wrong and I was very curious to find out what indeed contributed to men's healthy aging as opposed to falling prey to the pressures that many men face. There are so many different angles to this book. The idea of increasing health care costs with an aging population as well as increasing insults to public health from environmental effects and changing lifestyle choices is one. The questions of supporting early childhood development and family health from a policy standpoint and the effects on later health care costs is another. What I did not expect to find so interesting when I first chose this book was the sheer challenge in successfully keeping such a long term longitudinal study alive, funded, and meaningful. Another fascinating idea to me was the effect of the conventional thinking on well-being and health over the years this study has run and the effects of those prevalent ideas on the type of data collected or, more importantly, not collected. The challenge of a later researcher to fit in the missing puzzle pieces because priorities have changed or new information has come to light was something I had never thought of. The influence of the funding organizations on the type of data collected was also very interesting to me. I'm reading this in conjunction with three other books: Gladwell's Outliers, Seligman's Fluorish, and the other guy whose name I won't even attempt Flow. All the books reference the authors of the other books and also similar other longitudinal studies and other research. There is a fourth book called "Lonely at the Top," which I read this summer. That book would also be good, read concurrently with these four. Read together, the five books makes me feel as if I am sitting at a table with the five authors all chit-chatting about the concept of well-being and adult development. It is a fascinating area of research and high time the field of mental health began paying attention to it.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Margaret Sankey

    Vaillant took the helm of the longest-running longitudinal study in American social science when he was a young researcher and the study had already been going for 30 years. Beginning in 1937, the study, funded by a retail magnate to identify key traits in management prospects (with later interest from the Army and tobacco companies), selected 268 Harvard sophomores to track, assuming that they were ideal social and academic paragons, easy to track for the study and likely to give the best of Am Vaillant took the helm of the longest-running longitudinal study in American social science when he was a young researcher and the study had already been going for 30 years. Beginning in 1937, the study, funded by a retail magnate to identify key traits in management prospects (with later interest from the Army and tobacco companies), selected 268 Harvard sophomores to track, assuming that they were ideal social and academic paragons, easy to track for the study and likely to give the best of American manhood results. By monitoring them consistently over the years, some very interesting things happened--researchers realized the men changed their views of the past, romanticizing things, or suddenly realizing that something they thought was normal had been abusive or excessive (1930s parenting, 1950s drinking), they were capable of mellowing out in mid-life about religion and their kids, often found new purpose in grandkids and second marriages or second careers. Along the way, the researchers involved realized they could use this data for WWII and Korean War PTSD studies, involve spouses, take more sophisticated brain scans and DNA and collect data that future scientists may think of a use for later. The most interesting thing about this is the correlation with other longitudinal studies of non-WASP men of their generation. Across racial and class lines, good health and financial success can be associated with two major things: a stable childhood with some responsible loving adult and higher education. Even those wealthy study participants who had every other advantage but lacked one or both of these had a far harder time.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    Phew this was a bit of a slog - really really interesting but not a fast read. Much of what George Vaillant had to say was profound and useful both personally and professionally. At times I needed to reread whole paragraphs to understand his intent as they started off saying one thing but turned into another! That said each of these paragraphs contained pearls worth taking the time to decipher. Of particular interest were the chapters on Alcoholism , Resilience and Adult maturation. The Grant Stu Phew this was a bit of a slog - really really interesting but not a fast read. Much of what George Vaillant had to say was profound and useful both personally and professionally. At times I needed to reread whole paragraphs to understand his intent as they started off saying one thing but turned into another! That said each of these paragraphs contained pearls worth taking the time to decipher. Of particular interest were the chapters on Alcoholism , Resilience and Adult maturation. The Grant Study is a unique longitudinal study of a particular cohort of men who in 1936 were deemed to be the best of the best and rather vicariously we have been given an account of what was learnt from their lives!! Awesome stuff of which I have bored my husband and anyone who will listen stiff with quotes and interesting statistical data. What is more scary is that I have read a complete research synopsis and it has nothing to do with my study (I am having a break) and I have given it five stars. The data presented has given me hope for myself, my husband and two boys. It has also given me a sense of peace and calm that I can only do the best I can with knowledge and skills I currently possess. However I have the ability to improve my lot through conscientious choice and perseverance - these can be both learned and taught. A stunning piece of modern science and well worth the time and effort I put into reading - thank you Mr Valiant for your passion, dedication and lives work.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Sean

    Vaillant makes use of an extensive set of longitudinal data on Harvard men to determine what leads to enduring fulfillment and joy in their lives. Living through a warm childhood, abstaining from alcoholism and smoking, coping effectively with failure, and permitting love and attachment score high on his list of factors that contribute to beneficial outcomes. This book also depicts several useful misconceptions that the author effectively debunks and several surprising outcomes: for instance, me Vaillant makes use of an extensive set of longitudinal data on Harvard men to determine what leads to enduring fulfillment and joy in their lives. Living through a warm childhood, abstaining from alcoholism and smoking, coping effectively with failure, and permitting love and attachment score high on his list of factors that contribute to beneficial outcomes. This book also depicts several useful misconceptions that the author effectively debunks and several surprising outcomes: for instance, members of his study who attend graduate school live longer than those with a college degree by four years with a difference statistically significant. The decision to attend graduate school should not just involve a net present value calculation of maximizing the present value of future earnings; a greater number of years of life also await. While I estimate given the book's cover and its contents that the average age of a reader of this book will exceed 40, it also deserves a read from young readers to take head of many of Vaillant's findings.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    One of those books I am so glad I read. Such a fascinating longitudinal study, the book is written by a former head of this study which analyzed the lives of several hundred Harvard men over the entire course of their lives. I appreciated his insight and analysis of the data. One of the major findings is that what leads to the most fulfillment in life is the quality of a person's relationships. I feel a renewed desire to be kinder and more loving with my family and friends and to prioritize my r One of those books I am so glad I read. Such a fascinating longitudinal study, the book is written by a former head of this study which analyzed the lives of several hundred Harvard men over the entire course of their lives. I appreciated his insight and analysis of the data. One of the major findings is that what leads to the most fulfillment in life is the quality of a person's relationships. I feel a renewed desire to be kinder and more loving with my family and friends and to prioritize my relationships. Another of the major findings may be uncomfortable for some to hear, but it is the complete devastation that alcohol can have on marriages and relationships. In the study it proved to be the number one reason why marriages failed. The author was clear to point out that with this type of study it was important to follow where the data led them, a principle they closely followed. I look forward to hearing more about the data coming out of the study in the years to come.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Sanford

    I found this book: 1) informative, but not overwhelming; 2) encouraging that growth over time is possible; and 3) relatable, as it shares findings from the study by telling the stories of individuals. This seems like a book that would be nice to revisit in various stages of life.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

    This book was like medicine, knew it was good for me but had to force myself to finish it. Interesting book on health and happiness over the course of a lifetime with some surprising and informative insights. Especially liked that everything is scientifically rigorous and the author explains the data that drove his conclusions, although this shouldn’t be surprising given the subject of the book is a scientific study. The vignettes focused on individual study participants are fun to read and effe This book was like medicine, knew it was good for me but had to force myself to finish it. Interesting book on health and happiness over the course of a lifetime with some surprising and informative insights. Especially liked that everything is scientifically rigorous and the author explains the data that drove his conclusions, although this shouldn’t be surprising given the subject of the book is a scientific study. The vignettes focused on individual study participants are fun to read and effective when the author is trying to illustrate certain concepts. On the other hand details about the minutiae of running a longitudinal human lifetime study are boring and not always necessary. Book could have been just as effective at half the length. Overall recommend reading once for some interesting takeaways

  12. 4 out of 5

    Suleman

    I wasn’t able to finish this book. It had some good points but became very Dull and repetitive in the middle. The study really focuses on the main idea that warm relationships are one of the main reasons for happiness in life. There’s a lot of useless details in general and I had to give it up which I rarely do

  13. 5 out of 5

    Polly Rosenstein

    This is an encouraging study showing that people can and do change over a lifetime.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Vance

    George Vaillant explains his lifetime work on the Harvard Grant Study that follows many men at Harvard that provides a very interesting longitudinal analysis about a number of factors that lead to a long life, divorce, emotional agility, alcoholism, and more. The key to a longer, happier life is having loved ones around you, whether that's a spouse, family member, or friend. A key problem with divorce is alcoholism, which tends to be a genetic factor that can be very difficult to overcome. There George Vaillant explains his lifetime work on the Harvard Grant Study that follows many men at Harvard that provides a very interesting longitudinal analysis about a number of factors that lead to a long life, divorce, emotional agility, alcoholism, and more. The key to a longer, happier life is having loved ones around you, whether that's a spouse, family member, or friend. A key problem with divorce is alcoholism, which tends to be a genetic factor that can be very difficult to overcome. There are excellent stories of several of the men in the study. Of course, there are a number of shortcomings of the study, such as studying only men and basing the analysis on survey data, but overall it is a vey interesting book and one that I learned much that I should work on and others to avoid. Check it out for yourself.

  15. 4 out of 5

    David

    As a 28 year-old man, I acutely feel the impending pressures and complexities of pursuing career consolidation, intimacy, health, generativity (making babies and stuff) amongst others. Triumphs of Experience offers the perfect antidote to the dreaded quarter-/one-third-life crises as it narrates and studies the realities that, "adult development continues long after adolescence, that character is not set in plaster, and that people do change." Vailant pulls data from 70+ years of studying Harvar As a 28 year-old man, I acutely feel the impending pressures and complexities of pursuing career consolidation, intimacy, health, generativity (making babies and stuff) amongst others. Triumphs of Experience offers the perfect antidote to the dreaded quarter-/one-third-life crises as it narrates and studies the realities that, "adult development continues long after adolescence, that character is not set in plaster, and that people do change." Vailant pulls data from 70+ years of studying Harvard undergraduates to their 90s, or to their deaths, and weaves a beautiful picture of how, although a life is short, its effects and permutations take decades to realize -- because you're ahead or behind at 30 doesn't mean you will be at 65... the road is long. Amidst the many profound axioms Vailant offers, the one that stands out the most is "omnia vincit amor": love conquers all.

  16. 5 out of 5

    P

    Way too much focus on how the study was conducted. Experiences from the study are buried in discussions about the study itself. The author managed to write it so intertwined that one can't skip the entirely irrelevant digressions and just focus on the research findings. The author even succeeded in completely omitting summaries and key take-away points. This should have been two books, or one book with two parts: one about the findings, and one about the methodology. I will grown old before I am Way too much focus on how the study was conducted. Experiences from the study are buried in discussions about the study itself. The author managed to write it so intertwined that one can't skip the entirely irrelevant digressions and just focus on the research findings. The author even succeeded in completely omitting summaries and key take-away points. This should have been two books, or one book with two parts: one about the findings, and one about the methodology. I will grown old before I am able to finish this brick of terse bla-bla.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Niniane

    Interesting insights based on a longitudinal study of 200+ men for 70 years! Alcoholism is hereditary and the biggest reason for marriages failing. A warm childhood is predictive of success, but a bad childhood can be overcome. Love relationships are what makes us truly happy. People grow and change throughout their lives -- even a life that was devoid until age 50 can still flower into an amazing old-age. All these backed up with scientific regressions plus anecdotal case studies!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Ted

    It turns out that I was not as interested in the topic of a longevity study as I thought I might be. Well researched and I think well written, I found fewer insights into being human than I thought I might. I thought the chapter on alcoholism and his references to the effects of alcoholism on the lives of the men in the study were the most interesting and worth reading.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Katy

    This is a fascinating book about a longitudinal study of Harvard undergraduates from 1938 up to the present day. It's interesting to learn how their childhoods, personalities, and habits influence the trajectory of their lives. Highly recommended! This is a fascinating book about a longitudinal study of Harvard undergraduates from 1938 up to the present day. It's interesting to learn how their childhoods, personalities, and habits influence the trajectory of their lives. Highly recommended!

  20. 5 out of 5

    Pamela Bayer

    The only lifetime longitudinal study completed on health and happiness in the world....although some insights are outdated, it's still very informative. The conclusion of the study is simply put in the words of John Lennon, "Love is all you need". The only lifetime longitudinal study completed on health and happiness in the world....although some insights are outdated, it's still very informative. The conclusion of the study is simply put in the words of John Lennon, "Love is all you need".

  21. 5 out of 5

    Johnny

    Analysis of one of the longest longitudinal studies ever conducted. It tracks over 70 decades of life of a group of Harvard students. A road map looked through the rear mirror, reflecting the possibilities men can achieve (or not achieve) over a lifetime.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

    The study itself is fascinating (though very dated to our modern eyes) yet the book itself is a little dry and a little too impressed with itself.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Linda

    No surprises. People in good relationships are happier. Mildly interesting tidbits like success in early life does not determine happiness in mid-life.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie Michelle

    "Triumphs of Experience" details the 'cream of the crop,' from college until death, with in-depth interviews of their lifestyle habits and relationships to serve as the gold standard of what to do to live the longest, healthiest and happiest life, and also a few common ways to f-it all up. I was taken aback by the level of thoughtfulness, thoroughness, and practicality of Vaillant's work. Also thankful that despite pushback, and altering the angle to secure funding (tobacco, alcohol, etc.) to kee "Triumphs of Experience" details the 'cream of the crop,' from college until death, with in-depth interviews of their lifestyle habits and relationships to serve as the gold standard of what to do to live the longest, healthiest and happiest life, and also a few common ways to f-it all up. I was taken aback by the level of thoughtfulness, thoroughness, and practicality of Vaillant's work. Also thankful that despite pushback, and altering the angle to secure funding (tobacco, alcohol, etc.) to keep the study of 268 men afloat, the study persisted for over 75 years! Here are some of the noteworthy findings: - Men with close sibling relationships made $51k more (2009 dollars) more per year than those w/o close sibling ties - The number one thing people learn from their kids? The depth of love. - Ease in endurance running is more correlated with successful relationships than physical health - "When you grow old, you get to know women and doctors." - What goes right is more important than what goes wrong (the main sentiment of life in older age) - Alcoholism is the most common reason for divorce - "Two healthy people can easily have a good marriage, but a great marriage takes a lucky match between two neurotics. " :) - Early mental health factors predicted nothing of health at 80. Men with bleakest childhoods lived only 1.5 years less than those w/ the warmest. - Hierarchy of defenses: 1. psychotic (delusional, projection, denial, distortion), 2. immature (acting out, passive aggression, dissociation), 3. intermediate (intellectualization, repression), 4. mature (altruism, humor, sublimation- converting pain into art/redirecting focus to lucrative activity, suppression). - Political affiliation tended to hold true for 50+ years once decided upon but made no difference in the quality of parenting, etc. - Sexual activity in liberals lasted until age 85, and conservatives, 68, on average - Planful competence and dependability as childhood traits correlated with thriving in ages 60-85

  25. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    A detailed and statically heavy look at 268 men over 75 years of life beginning in 1939. Heavy emphasis on relationships and lifestyle. Here is a summary of this 370-page book covering the study: -Alcoholism was the main cause of divorce between the Grant Study men and their wives. -Alcoholism strongly correlates with neurosis and depression. -Alcoholism with associated cigarette smoking was the single greatest contributor to their early morbidity and death. -Financial success depends on the warmth A detailed and statically heavy look at 268 men over 75 years of life beginning in 1939. Heavy emphasis on relationships and lifestyle. Here is a summary of this 370-page book covering the study: -Alcoholism was the main cause of divorce between the Grant Study men and their wives. -Alcoholism strongly correlates with neurosis and depression. -Alcoholism with associated cigarette smoking was the single greatest contributor to their early morbidity and death. -Financial success depends on the warmth of relationships. -Those who scored highest on measurements of "warm relationships" earned an average of $141,000 a year more at their peak salaries (usually between ages 55 and 60). -No significant difference in maximum income earned by men with IQs in the 110–115 range and men with IQs higher than 150. -Political mindedness correlates with intimacy. -The most-conservative men ceased sexual relations at an average age of 68. -The most-liberal men had active sex lives into their 80s. :) -The warmth of a childhood relationship with mothers matters long into adulthood: -Men who had "warm" childhood relationships with their mothers earned an average of $87,000 more a 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 with their fathers—were associated with effectiveness at work. -The warmth of childhood relationships with mothers had no significant bearing on "life satisfaction" at 75. -The warmth of a childhood relationship with fathers correlated with: *Lower rates of adult anxiety. *Greater enjoyment of vacations. *Increased "life satisfaction" at age 75.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Suhrob

    I was initially stoked about this book: 1) very relevant research 2) combined with interesting case studies 3) and some "backstage" stories about running a uniquely long longitudinal study. Unfortunately as the book went on my enthusiasm waned. 1) Somehow the solid results are underwhelming (alcohol is really really bad...) 2) Case studies got more boring and confusing. Vaillant keeps referring to persons across chapters. However, since the studies are not tremendously memorable (unlike him you spend I was initially stoked about this book: 1) very relevant research 2) combined with interesting case studies 3) and some "backstage" stories about running a uniquely long longitudinal study. Unfortunately as the book went on my enthusiasm waned. 1) Somehow the solid results are underwhelming (alcohol is really really bad...) 2) Case studies got more boring and confusing. Vaillant keeps referring to persons across chapters. However, since the studies are not tremendously memorable (unlike him you spend a few pages with these persons not decades like he did), so I found 3) A needlessly confusing presentation of results - Vaillant uses tables, gives p-values but not effect direction, and their description in the text is really clumsy. 4) Some results seem *very* suspicious - essentially what I think happens is that they use standard frequentist analysis (hence the p-vals) with 100s of variables, so of course they get some weird effects like influence of maternal grandfather on some outcome 70 years later. There are no details on the analysis so it is not even clear if they correct for multiple testing. Some people attack the study based on the sample selection (affluent white male Harvard grads), but I don't think this is fare given the time it was conceived and the limitations. This data set could still be invaluable (though not necessarily applicable for full population). Overall I hope this data get public, and a proper, careful analysis will be carried out. At the moment I don't recommend this book - reading a summary is sufficient.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Adam

    Triumphs of experience - based on The Grand study and more longtitude studies - alcoholism leads to higher chance of divorce and shorter lifespan - good relationship with siblings, family, (intimate) relationships - to warm relationships, earnings - love!, solid, bold - we can change, childhood does not have to determine - on childhood - warm childhood -> significant wealth, and satisfaction with life - brain maturation leads to more intimacy allowance - Questions - My behaviour with the opposite sex h Triumphs of experience - based on The Grand study and more longtitude studies - alcoholism leads to higher chance of divorce and shorter lifespan - good relationship with siblings, family, (intimate) relationships - to warm relationships, earnings - love!, solid, bold - we can change, childhood does not have to determine - on childhood - warm childhood -> significant wealth, and satisfaction with life - brain maturation leads to more intimacy allowance - Questions - My behaviour with the opposite sex has lead me to situations that made me anxious. - I often thought that sexually people are animals. - I usually feel that my needs come first. - Others have felt that I’ve been afraid of sex. - I usually get wrapped up in my interest and loose the interest in others. - I put up a wall or a shell when the situation requires it. - I keep people at a distance more than I really want to. - I sometimes felt that the depth of my feelings might become distractive. - -> emotional aspect of childhood, predictors for sucess at age 50. - Liking and trusting needs to be learned. - Alcoholism by genetics and childhood. - development - identity parent separation - self identification - allowing for intimacy - have interests, hobbies - stopping development leads to unhappiness - Ericsons stages - What you do, what others might benefit from? - fear of sex is predictor - use humor as a coping mechanism - to drink makes marriges bad - first marriges improve over time

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jenny

    Another book read as a favor for a friend--this turned out to be much more interesting than I expected. Somehow Vaillant makes potentially dry, statistical analyses riveting. I couldn't help but apply some of the lessons learned from this prospective study going on 80 years to my own life. I appreciated the author's clinical approach, and yet his own distinct voice, often describing his reactions and attachments to these men whom he knew and studied for decades. I liked the chapter about coping Another book read as a favor for a friend--this turned out to be much more interesting than I expected. Somehow Vaillant makes potentially dry, statistical analyses riveting. I couldn't help but apply some of the lessons learned from this prospective study going on 80 years to my own life. I appreciated the author's clinical approach, and yet his own distinct voice, often describing his reactions and attachments to these men whom he knew and studied for decades. I liked the chapter about coping skills--maybe my sublimation and repression of all the horrors I see and experience at work is actually healthy. Also comforting is that assumptions made early in the study (men without strong father figures, or men with mean mothers, or men who had huge personal losses would be psychopaths or stunted in life and marriage) were proven more complex than initially thought. Seems like the bottom line is that people develop for their lifetimes, childhood trauma becomes less important with time, and alcoholism is the most important factor in divorces. Mostly, I liked reading about these men, many of whom expressed themselves beautifully, with openness and emotion and humor that, when I find it in real life, reflects something divine. "With maturity comes the capacity and the willingness to express emotion in meaningful words." Depressing quote of a man who scored their marriage poorly, "She likes her beer." Dang.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan Mckay

    This feels like the 'capital in the 21st century' for individuals. Vaillant (and all the study leaders before and after him) have followed a small group of people over more than 70 years to search for long term predictions about thriving into old age. The conclusions of the book are not at all surprising, the keys to a happy and meaningful life into old age are: 1. Loving relationships 2. Developing mature coping habits 3. Having a 'warm' childhood OK - no news there. More interesting to me was th This feels like the 'capital in the 21st century' for individuals. Vaillant (and all the study leaders before and after him) have followed a small group of people over more than 70 years to search for long term predictions about thriving into old age. The conclusions of the book are not at all surprising, the keys to a happy and meaningful life into old age are: 1. Loving relationships 2. Developing mature coping habits 3. Having a 'warm' childhood OK - no news there. More interesting to me was the methodology by which the study reaches these conclusions, and all the hypotheses discarded along the way. The authors created a 'decathlon of thriving' spanning physical activity, health, relationships, mental well-being etc. all of which I found to be a useful framework for attempting to scientifically describe 'the good life'. Also useful was the many hypotheses that have been discarded along the way. Most importantly, the study presents ample evidence to disprove that 'there are no second acts in American lives.' Original hypotheses from the 30's around things such as body type have since been descarded. Also money correlates with happiness only slightly, bad experiences in childhood do not doom people to failure, rather happy experiences in childhood predispose people to success. Highly recommended reading. hat tip to Alex Schultz for the recommendation!

  30. 5 out of 5

    Anson Cassel Mills

    The psychiatrist George Vaillant (b. 1934) has spent his professional career with the Harvard Grant Study, the longest longitudinal study of human development ever attempted. At publication about 30% of the 268 participants were still alive and in their early 90s. Still, it is unlikely that Vaillant himself will be able to present an absolute postmortem because at publication he was in his late 70s and playfully admitted to a host of bad lifestyle choices. As an older male, it was encouraging to The psychiatrist George Vaillant (b. 1934) has spent his professional career with the Harvard Grant Study, the longest longitudinal study of human development ever attempted. At publication about 30% of the 268 participants were still alive and in their early 90s. Still, it is unlikely that Vaillant himself will be able to present an absolute postmortem because at publication he was in his late 70s and playfully admitted to a host of bad lifestyle choices. As an older male, it was encouraging to me to read case studies of others still growing emotionally and intellectually late in life. And I like Vaillant’s anecdotal and self-referential prose style. Yet despite the encouraging news that I have all the “factors associated with longevity,” I’m skeptical of his theories generally because of the study’s unavoidably small number of subjects. That is, I’m skeptical except for one finding that seems unassailable: that alcoholism is bad news for every aspect of human existence, physical, mental, and emotional.

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