Aging Well: Surprising Guideposts to a Happier Life from the Landmark Harvard Study of Adult Development
by George E. Vaillant, M.D.
"We all need models for how to live from retirement to past 80--with joy," writes George Vaillant, M.D., director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development. This groundbreaking book pulls together data from three separate longevity studies that, beginning in their teens, followed 824 individuals for more than 50 years. The subjects were male Harvard graduates; inner-city, disadvantaged males; and intellectually gifted women.
“An unavoidable task of the living is to change with time. Change is psychologically painful. Combined with the physical reality of stiff joints, facial wrinkles, and frustrating forgetfulness, aging is neither relished nor revered by our society. We empower ourselves with antioxidant vitamins, wrinkle-reduction surgery, and hair dye to prevent, reverse, disrupt, delay, or disguise the aging process. We prove our value by maintaining a ridiculously fast pace with an effervescent smile. We define our self-worth according to the many external modifiers that proclaim our youth. We are caught up in a fantasy that belies reality -- every day, our mind and body grow older. The first definition of the verb "age" provided by Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, ninth edition, is "to become old: show the effects or the characteristics of increasing age." The definition is nonjudgmental but is equally uninspiring. Whatever aging is, we do not need to welcome it. The second definition causes us to step back: to age is "to acquire a desirable quality by standing undisturbed for some time" or "to become mellow or mature." In his book Aging Well, George Vaillant takes this second definition of aging to a new level. Using a unique data base of standardized interviews exploring the psychological health of nearly 700 men beginning in 1939, he investigates whether important and potentially destructive situations in youth (e.g., disinterested or abusive parents or poverty) affect the psychological makeup of adults…”
—the New England Journal of Medicine, July 11, 2002
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