Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Cart before the Horse

A.S. (Vistage) mentioned at the end of my longevity presentation that a book he had just started would be something I would love - that was an understatement - the book "Triumphs of Experience" by George E. Vaillant was a perfect fit for a self help junkie, statistician, with closet interests in demography, anthropology and psychology.  It is a book about the Men of the Harvard Grant Study - the 75 year longitudinal study of 268 Harvard Sophomores.

Vaillant created the "Decathlon of Flourishing" - the set of 10 outcomes (events) that he could objectively measure with the various data collected over the 75 years.  In 2009, the Atlantic asked Vaillant to identify the most important finding of the Grant Study since it's inception.  Vaillant answered, "the only thing that really matters in life are your relations to other people". This book was his follow-up to that "rash answer" that he felt needed "official evidence". 

Luckily Vaillant provides Chapter 2 for the impatient readers which sums up his "ultimate lessons" (so far) of the Grant Study provided below:

Lesson 1 - Positive mental health does exist, and to some degree can be understood independent of moral and cultural biases.

Lesson 2 - Adaptive coping is crucial  [and provides hope in a flourishing life outcome]

Lesson 3 - The most important influence by far on a flourishing life is love.

Lesson 4 - People really can change, and people really can grow.

Lesson 5 - What goes right [the quality of a child's total experience] is more important than what goes wrong [a particular trauma or relationship]

Lesson 6 - If you follow lives long enough, they change, and so do the factors that affect healthy adjustment.

Lesson 7 - Prospective studies really do elucidate life's mysteries.

How ironic that this book touches the very projects I have been investigating (through my Vistage presentations) over the last four years - life purpose, happiness, luck & risk, and longevity.  Lesson 3 and 2, Vaillant calls the two pillars of happiness - Love and finding a way of coping with life that does not push love away. 

Remember ..... ["Only those who understand that happiness is only the cart; love is the horse"]  that the horse comes before the cart!  

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