At a time when many people around the world are living into
their tenth decade, the longest longitudinal study of human development ever
undertaken offers some welcome news for the new old age: our lives continue to
evolve in our later years and often become more fulfilling than before.
Begun in 1938, the Grant Study of Adult Development charted
the physical and emotional health of over two hundred men, starting with their
undergraduate days. The now-classic Adaptation to Life reported on the
men’s lives up to age fifty-five and helped us understand adult maturation. Now
George Vaillant follows the men into their nineties, documenting for the first
time what it is like to flourish far beyond conventional retirement.
Reporting on all aspects of male life—including
relationships, politics and religion, coping strategies, and alcohol use—Triumphs
of Experience shares a number of surprising findings. For example, the
people who do well in old age did not necessarily do so well in midlife and
vice versa. While the study confirms that recovery from a lousy childhood is
possible, memories of a happy childhood are a lifelong source of strength.
Marriages bring much more contentment after age seventy, and physical aging
after eighty is determined less by heredity than by habits formed prior to age fifty.
The credit for growing old with grace and vitality, it seems, goes more to
ourselves than to our stellar genetic makeup.
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