[asa] What Makes Us Happy?

From: Alexanian, Moorad <alexanian@uncw.edu>
Date: Thu May 14 2009 - 16:51:20 EDT

http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/print/200906/happiness?x=33&y=3
Psychology June 2009
Is there a formula—some mix of love, work, and psychological adaptation—for a good life? For 72 years, researchers at Harvard have been examining this question, following 268 men who entered college in the late 1930s through war, career, marriage and divorce, parenthood and grandparenthood, and old age. Here, for the first time, a journalist gains access to the archive of one of the most comprehensive longitudinal studies in history. Its contents, as much literature as science, offer profound insight into the human condition—and into the brilliant, complex mind of the study’s longtime director, George Vaillant.

by Joshua Wolf Shenk

What Makes Us Happy?

Image credit: Mark Ostow

Case No. 218

How’s this for the good life? You’re rich, and you made the dough yourself. You’re well into your 80s, and have spent hardly a day in the hospital. Your wife had a cancer scare, but she’s recovered and by your side, just as she’s been for more than 60 years. Asked to rate the marriage on a#FF0000 scale of 1 to 9, where 1 is perfectly miserable and 9 is perfectly happy, you circle the highest number. You’ve got two good kids, grandkids too. A survey asks you: “If you had your life to live over again, what problem, if any, would you have sought help for and to whom would you have gone?” “Probably I am fooling myself,” you write, “but I don’t think I would want to change anything.” If only we could take what you’ve done, reduce it to a set of rules, and apply it systematically.

Right?

Case No. 47

You literally fell down drunk and died. Not quite what the study had in mind.

Last fall, I spent about a month in the file room of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, hoping to learn the secrets of the good life. The project is one of the longest-running—and probably the most exhaustive—longitudinal studies of mental and physical well-being in history. Begun in 1937 as a study of healthy, well-adjusted Harvard sophomores (all male), it has followed its subjects for more than 70 years.

Interviews:
Ben Bradlee: "I Haven't Been Unhappy in My Life" <http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200905u/ben-bradlee>
The famed editor reflects on his education, career, and experiences as a member of the Grant Study.

Donald Cole: "I Have Always Thought Adaptation Was a Wonderful Thing." <http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200905u/donald-cole>

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Received on Thu May 14 16:52:24 2009

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