What are the Secrets to Life?

I’ll get to that in a minute. First an explanation of how this newsletter gets put together. We all read widely here, newspapers, magazines, trade journals, the internet, etc., and when we find interesting articles we clip them and add them to a big pile which accumulates by the inch and then by the foot. It is a messy process, but hey, as they say, “a clean desk is a sign of a sick mind.” We use these clippings to come up with the monthly newsletter topics and then eventually we need to cull the herd, so to speak, and reduce the pile.

But before throwing anything out we take one last look to see what intrigued us about the material. That’s how I ran across this piece on the Grant Study from The Atlantic in May 2013.

The Grant Study is one of the longest running longitudinal studies of human development. It started in the 1930s tracking 268 Harvard men, sophomores in the classes of 1939-1944.  It measures a range of psychological, anthropological, and physical traits. It continued for 75 years. George Vaillant directed the study for more than three decades and published a book about the project, Triumphs of Experience.

What are some of the important insights about these 268 individuals?

1) Alcohol was the great undoing. It was the main cause of divorce for the men and alcohol was strongly correlated with depression which interestingly followed alcohol abuse, not preceded it. Finally, alcohol along with cigarette smoking, was the primary cause of early death.

2) Intelligence doesn't matter (above a certain level). The study found there was no difference in the income level of men with an IQ of 110-115 and those with an IQ greater than 150. We all have seen this in life, that the smartest people in the room are not necessarily the most successful. Eighty percent of success is showing up as Woody Allen once remarked.

3) Relationships are indeed the trump card. Vaillant found that the most important ingredient in health and happiness was the warmth of personal relationships. In summing up the study, Valliant said the key takeaway was, “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.”

Good wisdom indeed. I wonder however, if the Grant Study were done today whether the same issues would factor in, or whether new ones would replace those of the last century, like the effects of obesity on health and success. 

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