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Like wine, longitudinal studies improve with age. So says Dr George Vaillant, chief curator/analyst/investigator of sorts for the Harvard Study of Adult Development. Better known as the Grant Study, Dr Vaillant and his colleagues followed the lives of 268 healthy, well-adjusted male sophomores for over 70 years, starting in the late 1930s.

If it was wine, it would have made a fine wine indeed, infused with the very real, and often very hard, facts of life. The men were followed through war, careers, marriage, divorce, parenthood, grandparenthood, and old age. It’s no wonder that Dr Vaillant called the key to his study cabinets ‘the key to Fort Knox’.

Early on in the study, Dr Arlie Bock, the original co-creator of the project with the sponsorship of W T Grant, noted that the study was pitched at easing the world’s disharmony. As one of the most comprehensive studies into the human condition, it certainly offered some profound insights. NewsOK recently published an article which summarized the recipe for success for adult development in a few simple words by Dr Vaillant: “Happiness is love. Full stop.”

Dr Vaillant’s study looked at his subjects from every conceivable angle, but focused on the healthy ones – how they fared in the face of adversity and what gave them the edge. In a nutshell, it was love. Healthy, loving relationships with friends and family. Being productive in something they liked doing, no matter how mundane. Overcoming regrets. Getting on with life and enjoying it.

The pursuit of an explanation for happiness didn’t come without self-reflection. Speaking to The Atlantic’s Joshua Wolf Shenk in 2009, Dr Vaillant confessed that he certainly wasn’t a model of adult development, a statement on which Shenk gracefully reflects, “Only with patience and tenderness might a person surrender his barbed armor for a softer shield. Perhaps in this, I thought, lies the key to the good life—not rules to follow, nor problems to avoid, but an engaged humility, an earnest acceptance of life’s pains and promises.”

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Kevin Roberts

Kevin Roberts is founder of Red Rose Consulting; business leader and educator; author and speaker; adviser on marketing, creative thinking and leadership.


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