Here's What We Learned from a 75-Year-Long Study of "Emotional Health"

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When it comes to long-term scientific observation, you can't do much better than the Grant Study. Started in the 1930s, researchers with the study tracked the emotional health of male subjects from college age into their nineties. Here's what they discovered.

There's no such thing as a perfect study. George Vaillant's study, known as the Grant Study, isn't perfect. Meant to track the emotional health of 268 people as they grew from young adults to - hopefully - centenarians, it focused on a very specific group of people. Only Harvard students, white and male, from the class of 1939 to the class of 1944 were tracked.

All studies have limitations. Not all studies are such interesting reading. Vaillant has published several books about the Grant Study. Arguably the best is Triumphs of Experience, which features the portion of the study that deals with the men in their seventies through their nineties. Not all the "cases" are happy. There are men who became severely depressed, who succumbed to alcohol abuse - which surprisingly seems to have been the greatest overall danger to health and happiness of a generation that made it through a world war.


What did the study find? For a Harvard study stared in the 1930s, it was pretty hippy-ish. What made the men happiest, what they considered the most important part of their lives, was "warm personal relationships." This wasn't just limited to marriage and children. It included business relationships, where, once they got above a certain income level, men who had good relationships with others made more money than men who didn't. Men who had better relationships with their parents were happier and more self-confident than those who didn't. Connecting with other people even seemed to turn the more unhappy men around. Vaillant found that the men who were most depressed during their college days often became the happiest subjects in the study - provided they spent their lives prioritizing love and personal relationships.

One, perhaps unexpected, outcome shows that living ain't just for the young. Most of the men reported an extreme upsurge of happiness after age 75, and increased happiness with their marriage after the age of 80. (The five years in between 75 and 80 must have been interesting for their wives.) In the end, Vaillant concludes, "Happiness is love."


Top Image: Roger McLassus

[Via Triumphs of Experience, What Makes Us Happy.]


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Darcy Casselman

I think you mean "centinarians." "Centurions" are something else entirely. Although they do get to wear cool hats.