In 1938 William T. Grant started funding what would be famously known as Harvard's Grant Study; one of the longest-running longitudinal studies of human development. The project studied more than 200 undergraduate men from youth to death in an effort to determine what factors contribute most strongly to human flourishing and what predicts well being.
Recently, George Vaillant, who directed the study for more than three decades, published Triumphs of Experience - a book sums up insights of the study. Some interesting data:
- “Alcoholism is a disorder of great destructive power.” In fact, alcoholism is the single strongest cause of divorce between the Grant Study men and their wives.
- Alcoholism was also found to be strongly coupled with neurosis and depression (which most often follows alcohol abuse, rather than preceding it).
Together with cigarette smoking, alcoholism proves to be the #1 greatest cause of morbidity and death.
But the factor Vaillant returns to most insistently, and which I found extremely interesting, is the powerful correlation between the warmth of your relationships and your health and happiness in old age. After one of the first articles covering the conclusions of the study was published, critics questioned the strength of this correlation. Vaillant went back to the data he had been studying since the 1960s for his book, and was further convinced that what matters most in life are relationships.
The findings also suggest that the warmth of a man's relationship with his mother matters long into adulthood. Specifically:
- 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.
But Vaillant’s main conclusion, in his own words: “The seventy-five years and twenty million dollars expended on the Grant Study points … to a straightforward five-word conclusion: ‘Happiness is love. Full stop.’ ”