George E. Vaillant MD, at once both an able biographer and an eminent psychiatrist, is equally comfortable whether quoting Shakespeare, Freud, or anyone in between as he chronicles the lives of nearly 300 men from age 17 to 95. The data come from the Harvard Grant Study, a prospective study of 75 years in duration examining the factors that determine health, happiness, and success in life over the course of a human lifespan. Among the many intriguing findings is that while the influence of one’s childhood is important to later health and success, it is a factor only up to around age 50. In other words, from age 50 on, the study subjects who hailed from disadvantaged or dysfunctional families “caught up to” the ones from more loving or privileged family backgrounds. After age 50 the influences of childhood wane, and our fate lies truly in our own perseverance, our healthy and sustainable habits, our personal outlook on life, and the loving relationships we create around us. Hence the book’s title, “Triumphs of Experience”. This is an encouraging, data-based but humanistic, read for anyone looking for validation for the belief that life can truly get better with age. I would highly recommend this book, along with Vaillant’s earlier books based on findings from the Grant study, particularly the classic Adaptation to Life, written years ago when the Harvard study subjects were only ages 50 to 60 and chronicling how individuals navigate the transition from young adulthood to midlife.
Triumphs of Experience: The Men of the Harvard Grant Study
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