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Triumphs of Experience

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Triumphs of Experience

The Men of the Harvard Grant Study


At a time when many people around the world are living intotheir tenth decade, the longest longitudinal study of human development everundertaken offers some welcome news for the new old age: our lives continue toevolve in our later years and often become more fulfilling than before.

Begun in 1938, the Grant Study of Adult Development chartedthe physical and emotional health of over two hundred men, starting with theirundergraduate days. The now-classic Adaptation to Life reported on themen’s lives up to age fifty-five and helped us understand adult maturation. NowGeorge Vaillant follows the men into their nineties, documenting for the firsttime what it is like to flourish far beyond conventional retirement.

Reporting on all aspects of male life—includingrelationships, politics and religion, coping strategies, and alcohol use—Triumphsof Experience shares a number of surprising findings. For example, thepeople who do well in old age did not necessarily do so well in midlife andvice versa. While the study confirms that recovery from a lousy childhood ispossible, memories of a happy childhood are a lifelong source of strength.Marriages bring much more contentment after age seventy, and physical agingafter eighty is determined less by heredity than by habits formed prior to age fifty.The credit for growing old with grace and vitality, it seems, goes more toourselves than to our stellar genetic makeup.

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