What Makes Men Happy & Healthy? 75-Year Study Provides New Insights
What factors in life contribute the most to male health, happiness, and flourishing? What are the most harmful?
An ongoing Harvard study initiated way back in 1938 provides wonderful insights.
What Promotes or Hinders Flourishing in the Lives of Men?
In 1938, Harvard researchers initiated a unique study involving 268 male undergraduates. The goal was to learn the most important factors promoting or undermining flourishing among men over a lifetime.
Seventy-five years later, the study is still ongoing among the survivors, now into their 90s and well beyond the age of retirement. The findings from these men’s lives have been collected and summarized in an instructive book entitled Triumphs of Experience.
The author is George Vaillant, professor of psychiatry at Harvard University. He has directed the study, believed to be the longest-running study on human development ever conducted, for the last three decades.
Here are some major points from the book:
- Men who do well in old age did not necessarily do so well in midlife, and vice-versa.
- Recovery from a bad childhood is possible, but memories of a happy childhood provide a lifelong source of strength.
- Marriage brings much more contentment after age 70.
- Physical aging after 80 has less to do with heredity than with habits developed before age 50.
- Alcoholism is the great destroyer, and the biggest single cause of divorce. Neurosis and depression most often follow, rather than precede, alcohol abuse.
- The combination of alcoholism and cigarette smoking is the leading contributor to illness and death.
- There is no significant difference in maximum income earned by men with IQs in the 110-115 range compared to those over 150. An average IQ, as determined by testing, is considered to be 100.
- Politically speaking, aging liberals have much more sex than conservatives. There is no explanation for this, according to Dr. Vaillant, who asked urologists about the discrepancy.
- The “warmth” of relationships exerts a powerful impact on health and happiness in later years. The 58 men with the highest scores on measurements of warm relationships earned an average of $141,000 a year more during peak income years (between the ages of 55-60) than the 31 men with the lowest scores. More than a third of the former are still living, while only four of the latter are still alive.
- A positive boyhood relationship with one’s mother was associated with effectiveness at work, high income, continuing to work until 70, and mental competence at 80. By comparison, a poor relationship was significantly associated with dementia.
- A warm relationship with a father contributes to a man’s capacity to play, enjoy vacations, use of humor as a coping mechanism, and better adjustment/contentment after retirement. Conversely, someone with a poor paternal relationship was much more likely to describe himself as a pessimist, not let others get close, and to report low life satisfaction at 75. These variables were not associated with the maternal relationship.
- Men with poor fathering – and not poor mothering − were significantly more likely to have unhappy marriages.
- “The cruelest aspect of a bleak childhood was its correlation with friendlessness at the end of life,” said Dr. Vaillant. Cherished individuals were five times more likely to be rich in friendships and other social supports at 70 than those who were “loveless, who often trusted neither the universe nor their emotions, and remained essentially friendless for much of their lives.”
Summing up the study, Dr. Vaillant said the seventy-five years and $20 million expended point to a straightforward five-word conclusion: Happiness is love. Full stop.”