- Hardcover: 384 pages
- Publisher: Little, Brown; 1st edition (January 9, 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0316989363
- ISBN-13: 978-0316989367
- Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #583,322 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Aging Well: Surprising Guideposts to a Happier Life from the Landmark Harvard Study of Adult Development Hardcover – January 9, 2002
"We all need models for how to live from retirement to past 80--with joy," writes George Vaillant, M.D., director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development. This groundbreaking book pulls together data from three separate longevity studies that, beginning in their teens, followed 824 individuals for more than 50 years. The subjects were male Harvard graduates; inner-city, disadvantaged males; and intellectually gifted women.
"Here you have these wonderful files, and you seem little interested in how we cope with increasing age ... our adaptability, our zest for life," one of these subjects wrote to Vaillant, a researcher, psychiatrist, and Harvard Medical School professor, about how he was using this information. Vaillant took this advice to heart. In Aging Well, he presents personal narratives about people from these studies whom he interviewed personally in their 70s and 80s. He describes their history, relationships, hardships, philosophies, and sources of joy. We learn their perspectives and what makes them want to get up in the morning.
We also learn what makes old age vital and interesting. Vaillant discusses the important adult developmental tasks, such as identity, intimacy, and generativity (giving to the next generation), and provides important clues to a healthy, meaningful, satisfying old age. Health in old age, we learn, is not predicted by low cholesterol or ancestral longevity, but by factors such as a stable marriage, adaptive coping style (the ability to make lemonade out of life's lemons), and regular exercise.
Vaillant is empathetic and sometimes surprisingly poetic: "Owning an old brain, you see, is rather like owning an old car.... Careful driving and maintenance are everything." He freely includes subjective observations and interpretations, giving us a richer picture of the people he interviewed and insights into their lives. Aging Well is recommended for readers who are interested in learning about the quality-of-life issues of aging from the people who have the most to teach. --Joan Price
From Publishers Weekly
This groundbreaking sociological analysis is based on three research projects that followed over 800 people from their adolescence through old age. Subjects were drawn from the Harvard Grant study of white males, the Inner City study of non-delinquent males and the Terman Women study of gifted females, begun respectively in 1921, 1930 and 1911. In all three studies, subjects were interviewed at regular intervals over time, a design that prevented observations from being skewed by the distortions of memory and allowed for analyses that distinguished effect from cause. Vaillant (The Natural History of Alcoholism), a psychiatrist and professor at the Harvard Medical School, brings a nuanced point of view and an acceptance of the project's limitations. (Those followed were not randomly selected and were overwhelmingly Caucasian.) Nevertheless the author makes compelling use of his data, which is based on intensive contacts with a variety of subjects. Vaillant posits that successful physical and emotional aging is most dependent on a lack of tobacco and alcohol abuse by subjects, an adaptive coping style, maintaining healthy weight with some exercise, a sustained loving (in most cases, marital) relationship and years of education. This is good news since factors that cannot be altered, such as ancestral longevity, parental characteristics and childhood temperament, were among those ruled out as predictors. The book's academic tone will reassure some readers and put others off, but Vaillant's arresting interviews with selected subjects (recounted here) and his ability to learn from the subjects make this an outstanding contribution to the study of aging. National publicity.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
Top Customer Reviews
The book closely follows a study of 824 individuals from birth through to old age and shows us how we can prolong our years and health. While genetics do play a role, there is little we can do to change our genetic make-up. What we can do is change our habits and day-to-day way of living. Easier said than done, but a choice, from a health perspective, that may yeild benefits as the years slowly slip by. One may think that avoiding alcohol and smoking, eating a healthy diet, exercising and maintaining a healthy weight are old hat issues, but the author shows just how dramatically those things can and do affect our remaining years. He also shows how sharing a happy, loving relationship can enhance our feeling of well being. Continuing the education process can also increase our state of health by challenging our mind and keeping it active and alert.
Hopefully, younger, health conscious individuals will take avantage of reading this book in order to prevent many of the pitfalls we fall into as we age. Some of us wait until that magic middle-age crisis hits before we realize what we should have been doing years ago. However, it is never too late to change and many readers will find valuable information here that may make the aging years more fulfilling, healthy and enjoyable. A book, also highly recommended, is "The Wisdom of the Ego" by the same author.
Perhaps the biggest problem with the book is that only a very limited, and at times inadequate, overview is presented regarding various social and emotional developmental topics. The author bases the entire book on Erik Erikson's ideas about adult developmental stages, which in his interpretation consists of the sequential tasks of identity, intimacy, career consolidation, generativity, keeper of the meaning, and integrity. There is no discussion about the legitimacy of those ideas or whether there are alternative ideas. The principal means of elaborating on those views is by presenting mini-profiles of about 50 individuals throughout the book who supposedly have or have not attained a particular level of development. It is burdensome for the reader to be presented with so many case studies to weigh.Read more ›
His book is an "attempt to offer models for how to live from retirement to past 80 with joy". Comparing his pursuit to Dr. Spock's career in the study of child development, the author also perceives his book as "an attempt to anticipate development of old age and understand what can be changed and what has to be accepted."
Using composite histories of the study participants for comparison, six adult life tasks are reviewed: Identity, Intimacy, Career Consolidation, Generativity, Keeper of the Meaning and Integrity. The author strives to determine if we are genetically predisposed in how we experience these phases or in some cases choose to stay indefinitely in a phase that is comfortable rather than move on to experience another.
I read this book out of curiousity about the experiences of advanced aging in the United States and feel I now have a good foundation for developing a philosophy about my own aging process.
This book is not a deep scholarly rendition, however, the majority of the 300+ pages examing statistical data and percentage references became tiresome and difficult to analyze in lengthy reading sessions.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I am slowly reading this book; savoring it. There is so much information to take in and use or think about. Read morePublished 4 months ago by Ktnchrl
This 70+ year study of people, men and women, from all walks of life is a one of a kind look at what really matters in life. Read morePublished 10 months ago by Nancy Segovia - author of Dragon Tears and The Journey Home
Enjoying the book until Susan Wellcome was asked for her definition of successful aging for women -- she said, "What I don't care for is someone who wears eye shadow. Read morePublished 14 months ago by Forever Young "Sandy"
Fantastic, well written and engaging. Provides valuable insights into the aging process and identifies the different aging personality types. Read morePublished 15 months ago by Bronwen CAstor