Triumphs of Experience

Triumphs of Experience: The Men of the Harvard Grant Study

George E. Vaillant
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Harvard University Press
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt2jbxs1
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  • Book Info
    Triumphs of Experience
    Book Description:

    At a time when people are living into their tenth decade, the longest longitudinal study of human development ever undertaken offers welcome news for old age: our lives evolve in our later years and often become more fulfilling. Among the surprising findings: people who do well in old age did not necessarily do so well in midlife, and vice versa.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-06742-4
    Subjects: Psychology, History of Science & Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. CAST OF PROTAGONISTS (DECATHLON SCORE)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. 1 MATURATION MAKES LIARS OF US ALL
    (pp. 1-26)

    This book is about how a group of men adapted themselves to life and adapted their lives to themselves. It is also about the Grant Study, now seventy-five years old, out of which this story came. In it I will offer tentative answers to some important questions: about adult development in general, about the people who engaged us in this exploratory venture, about the study itself, and, perhaps above all, about the pleasures and perils of very long scientific projects.

    Originally the Grant Study was called the Harvard Longitudinal Study. A year later it became the Harvard Grant Study of...

  5. 2 THE PROOF OF THE PUDDING: TO FLOURISH FOR THE NEXT SIXTY YEARS
    (pp. 27-53)

    In this chapter I will get down to particulars, showing exactly how longitudinal studies work, how they can be used, and why they matter so much. I will demonstrate in action how different this kind of information—that is, information derived longitudinally and prospectively—is from the other kinds of data so abundantly compiled through the “instruments” of social science. And I will illustrate our findings (as throughout the book) with both nomothetic (statistical) and ideographic (narrative) data.

    In 2009, The Atlantic asked me to identify the most important finding of the Grant Study since its inception.¹ Without any official...

  6. 3 A SHORT HISTORY OF THE GRANT STUDY
    (pp. 54-107)

    In this chapter, I record the Grant Study’s seventy-five-year history for posterity—to be pondered, skimmed, or skipped at the reader’s pleasure. It’s the story not only of the Study, but also of seventy-five years of social sciences in America and the worldviews that came and went over that period. The research program of the Grant Study was directed by Clark Heath, M.D., from 1938 until 1954, by Charles McArthur, Ph.D., from 1954 to 1972, and from 1972 until 2004 by me. Since 2005, Robert Waldinger, M.D., has been the director of the Study.

    In the academic year 1936–1937,...

  7. 4 HOW CHILDHOOD AND ADOLESCENCE AFFECT OLD AGE
    (pp. 108-143)

    One aspect of our pasts that we tend to repeat unremembered are the experiences we absorb in childhood about other people and the world they embody. Novelist Joseph Conrad laid the stakes out somberly: “Woe to the man whose heart has not learned while young to hope, to love, to put its trust in life.”¹ If the child really is father to the man, then it’s reasonable to ask: how? This is not a simple question, obviously, but the Grant Study has been able to deconstruct it a bit, allowing us to explore the complex of childhood circumstances that shapes...

  8. 5 MATURATION
    (pp. 144-189)

    I first interviewed the Grant Study men in 1967, when I was thirty-three and they were in their late forties. I’ve always respected William James, and for a while those early encounters seemed to confirm his contention that character is set by thirty. But watching the men change in real time quickly persuaded me that about this, at least, he was mistaken. Lesson Four of the Grant Study is that people really do grow. Having learned it, I now argue with friends not about whether personalities change in adulthood, but about how best to measure the changes, and about what...

  9. 6 MARRIAGE
    (pp. 190-223)

    Mental health and the capacity to love are linked, but the linkages are elusive. We can’t weigh love on a scale, or examine it with special lenses. Poets can encompass it up to a point, but for most of us, psychologists and psychiatrists included, it’s something of a mystery. The importance of intimate, warm, mutual attachment (not just sex, and not even the biological/instinctual drive often called Eros) is the third lesson of the Grant Study. But no aspect of human behavior is assessed more subjectively, or measured less easily, than intimacy.

    Fortunately this doesn’t stop us from enjoying love...

  10. 7 LIVING TO NINETY
    (pp. 224-260)

    In my preoccupation with love, joy, and relationship in old age, I tend to forget the more mundane but absolutely crucial importance of staying alive. Physical health is just as important to successful aging as social and emotional health. In 2011, the Grant Study and the Lothian Birth Cohort 1921 became, as far as I know, the world’s first prospective studies of the physical health of nonagenarians.¹ (The Lothian Birth Cohort was formed in Edinburgh in 1932. It included more than 80,000 eleven-year-olds, many of whom have been followed over the years to the age of ninety.)

    In this chapter...

  11. 8 RESILIENCE AND UNCONSCIOUS COPING
    (pp. 261-291)

    Once upon a time at an amusement park in Florida, I watched some passengers (including my grandson) on a loop-the-loop roller-coaster. They gathered speed, swept up the curve, and hung suspended upside down at the top, waving their arms with excitement. I could see that for them the experience was one of ecstasy, exhilaration, and release. But it seemed to me that their elation, like the Ode to Joy of the angry and depressed Beethoven, reflected serious denial. For me, there would be nothing even remotely pleasurable in an experience like that. Just thinking about it I could feel the...

  12. 9 ALCOHOLISM
    (pp. 292-327)

    Alcoholism is a disorder of great destructive power. Depending on how we define it, it afflicts between 6 and 20 percent of all Americans at some time in their lives. In the United States, alcoholism is involved in a quarter of all admissions to general hospitals, and it plays a major role in the four most common causes of death in twenty- to forty-year-old men: suicide, accidents, homicide, and cirrhosis of the liver.¹ The damage it causes falls not only on alcoholics themselves but on their families and friends as well—and this damage touches one American family in three....

  13. 10 SURPRISING FINDINGS
    (pp. 328-350)

    As I’ve tried to convey throughout this book, longitudinal studies are constructions of intrinsic contradiction and paradox. They require investment in massive information collection before there’s any way to know for certain whether the information being compiled is the kind that can answer the questions the Study is posing. Much of this vast accumulation will almost assuredly never answer any questions at all. Yet in the huge heaps of data, little glints may sometimes be perceived. Some will turn out to be fool’s gold. But some, suddenly—with a different cast of light or a sudden shift in context or...

  14. 11 SUMMING UP
    (pp. 351-370)

    Learning from lifetime studies does not stop until the lives have been fully lived—and not even then, because archives of prospective data are an invitation and an opportunity to go back and ask new questions time and time again, even after the people who so generously provided the answers are gone.

    Each time the Study of Adult Development was threatened with extinction—in 1946, in 1954, in 1971, and in 1986—the grant-makers asked, “Hasn’t the Study been milked dry?” There was a time when I thought that after the College men reached sixty-five and retired, there was nothing...

  15. APPENDIXES
    (pp. 373-414)
  16. NOTES
    (pp. 415-436)
  17. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. 437-440)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 441-457)