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Aging Well: Surprising Guideposts to a Happier Life from the Landmark Harvard Study of Adult Development

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 10, 2002

    The Long View of Emotional Riches

    I liked this book very much, but I do have a caution about it. All studies are inevitably biased by the perspective of the person who is doing the measurements and describing what those measurements mean. In the case of Aging Well, the bias shows up a little more strongly than usual both because Dr. Vaillant is interested in psychological balance and is much younger than the people he describes. I would not draw attention to these obvious points except that Dr. Vaillant kept bringing up examples in Aging Well of how he had misinterpreted data and interviews years earlier from the Grant study of Harvard graduates because of ages differences between the subjects and him. In thinking about the conclusions he describes in Aging Well, I noticed that there was little insight into other ways that one might age well. For example, someone might be pretty miserable emotionally but use that misery to create positive benefits for society from activities like great writing, scholarship, works of art, or serving others. I would have thought this book was just about perfect if it had provided several different ways of capturing what it might mean to age well. So if you¿re interested in aging with emotional riches, this is the book for you. Otherwise, you¿ll feel like the book is talking to someone else. Let me now praise the book for the boldness of putting two pages of corrections as errata right up front in the book on the key charts located on pages 207 and 209. That kind of candor is often missing in new books. If you have not heard about the book, it draws on three separate long-term studies of cohort life experiences. The first includes 268 socially advantaged men, Harvard graduates born around 1920 (the Grant study). The second involves 456 socially disadvantaged inner city men from Boston born around 1930 (the Glueck study -- this made me feel old because I met the Gluecks when I was a graduate student). The third group is 90 middle-class intellectually gifted women born around 1910. Essentially, the book points out that we can each develop our maturity as we physically age. If at the same time we seek out new contacts and new knowledge, the combination can be very emotionally enriching. We can have ¿positive aging . . . joy, of love, and of learning . . . .¿ Healthy aging is strongly associated statistically with avoiding heavy smoking and alcohol abuse, having a stable marriage, getting some exercise, not being overweight, and having matured psychologically. The good news is that we can have the kind of aging we want. What happened to us in our youth isn¿t going to hurt us all that much, if at all. Our own choices mostly determine the quality of life we can look forward to. What I found most interesting about the book were the descriptions of both rich and sterile lives that people were living at more advanced ages than my own. I would enjoy reading a book about just those case histories at both extremes. I found these examples of both types motivating for different reasons. In my own case, I have a 92 year old mentor whose rich mental and social life never fails to inspire me. I was glad to know about some other ones. Personally, I like older people than I am and enjoy learning from them. To me, the only downside of aging is that there will be fewer older people for me to relate to. This book will definitely cause you to think about what you want to do with the rest of your adult life. Now . . . what was I talking about? Donald Mitchell, co-author of The 2,000 Percent Solution and The Irresistible Growth Enterprise

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    Posted May 3, 2012

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