What does it all mean?

“A few years ago, classmate Joshua Wolf Shenk wrote this great article for The Atlantic. Entitled What Makes Us Happy?, it got deep into the Harvard Grant Study and the question: What makes a good life?

Ali BinazirThe study started in 1937 and has been tracking 268 high-achieving members of the Harvard Class of 1939-1941 since then. That would be 76 years; now in 2013, the surviving members of the cohort are around 94. It’s the longest-running longitudinal study of human well-being. And if you plan on living for another 40 years or so, it has some salient advice for how to live well, Harvard person or not. (Side note: the study is confidential; however, we know that John F. Kennedy, Ben Bradlee and probably John Updike were in the group.)

Dr George Vaillant, the current director of the study and himself twice a Harvard person (A.B. ’56, M.D. ’60), recently wrote Triumphs of Experience: The Men of the Harvard Grant Study, summarizing the study’s findings.  I’ve read it twice so far, and this is what Vaillant found:

1) You can grow. Personality is not a fixed thing. Who you were at 18, or 30 or even 40, does not determine the course of the rest of your life.

2) What went right in your childhood matters much more than what went wrong.

3) Alcoholism (and addiction in general) is the most destructive force you can have in your life. It’s the #1 cause of divorce, premature morbidity and mortality, and just plain not reaching your potential.

4) We have involuntary defense mechanisms for dealing with the world. The more we use the mature defenses (such as altruism, anticipation, humor, sublimation and suppression), the better we live.

5) The strength of your intimate relationships is the prime determinant of your long-term health and happiness. As Vaillant put it, “Happiness is love, full stop.”

You would do well to get yourself a copy of Vaillant’s book. And read it, too.

The Good Old Days

Yep, those days of college were the Good Old Days. Total intellectual freedom. No bills, job, spouse, kids, election or limited partners to worry about. Body and mind at the height of their powers. Unlimited access to some of the most brilliant minds in the world. Potential for novel romantic intrigue. Summers off. You only wish you knew how awesome your life was so you could appreciate it more.

The good news about the Good Old Days: it’s not too late. Because these are the Good Old Days. Bottom line: you’re the youngest you’ll ever be. So go ahead and imagine yourself five decades from now at the Shady Acres House of Nostalgia and Shuffleboard somewhere in Florida, looking back on today and saying, “My god – what I would give to have the mind and body I had in 2013.” Well, you don’t have to give anything right now to have that mind and body except gratitude. It’s a miracle that we’re here, and I’m thrilled for every moment of it.”

Re-posted, read full article “Harvard Commencement and Reunion 2013” by Ali Binazir at http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/abinazir/2013/08/08/harvard-commencement-and-reunion-2013/

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