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Aging Well: Surprising Guideposts to a Happier Life from the Landmark Harvard Study of Adult Development Paperback – January 8, 2003
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A smart, important book about human development....everything about it is profoundly, provocatively new. * SAN FRANCISCO Chronicle *
About the Author
George Vaillant MD is a widely respected researcher, psychiatrist and professor at Harvard Medical School. He is considered one of the world's foremost authorities on aging.
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1. The author is quite conscious of the impact of privilege on the lives of the Harvard graduates he studies, and repeatedly makes efforts to determine what kinds of success are, or are not, the result of privilege. He pays close attention to the lives of the women in the Terman study, and the "Inner-City" men who were not born into privilege, to compare them with the experience of the white male Harvard graduates.
2. The methods of the study (as, I assume, with the field in general) repeatedly make efforts to correct for the bias of individual observers, including the author. Over the decades, there have been many efforts by "blind" raters to examine one part of the subjects' files, with no knowledge of the rest of that subject's file. I.e. a physician reads the file to evaluate the subject's physical health, with no knowledge of that subject's childhood, professional or personal life, etc. This is not simply about the author interviewing people and confirming his pet theories, although you could superficially get that impression.
3. The author is very frank and aboveboard, that he, like every one of us, has certain biases and prejudices in how he sees the world: he is a liberal East Coast academic. However, it is absurd to say that the book is simply a reflection of his prejudices. He writes sensitively and appreciatively about business-executive Republican types (though he is an academic liberal) and about religious believers (though he is not one). I personally am acutely sensitive to the ubiquitous and un-self-conscious liberal bias in the media and academia, and I really did not find any here. Any given page of the New York Times is 100x worse than this book, if liberal bias is something that bothers you.
Finally, a couple of interesting points that I believe the book proves well:
* Within the cohort of (those who were privileged enough to be) Harvard grads, there was little or no correlation between social status at birth and at the end of life. Many men began with trust funds and boarding school, and ended up scraping by; others from small country towns wound up wealthy.
* Many of the "Inner-City" men, who were raised in or near poverty, with few opportunities or privileges, were able to have healthy, rewarding, inspiring lives, with happy marriages, satisfying work, community ties, grandchildren, rewarding hobbies, etc. On average, they had worse physical health, less prestigious occupations, and lower incomes than the Harvard cohort, but were in no way less happy -- again, on average.
What I take away from this book is the idea that although gifts, talents, luck, personal, physical and intellectual qualities, looks, social status, and privilege are all very unequally distributed in life, it is possible to respond well or badly to life's slings and arrows, and that the nature of this response can have a huge impact on your later life. (i.e.: Avoid alcoholism at all costs!!! Seriously.)
I would never have found this book if it had not been on the end table of the Assisted Living Facility and caught my interest while awaiting an opportunity to talk with the Administrator of the facility where my wife was living prior to here passing.
The book is written for a lay person and the author clearly explains any technical information the reader needs to know. It is definitely worthwhile to read this book and glean from what you can that fits with your life.