Via Andrew Sullivan, a review of George Vaillant’s book on the Harvard Grant Study, which followed (an admittedly limited/privileged) group of 268 men over the course of 70 years, checking in with them regularly:
The study, a product of the period in which it was conceived, has its limitations. Its only subjects are white, privileged men. Still, many of its findings seem universal. If they could be boiled down to a single revelation, it would be that the secret to a happy life is relationships, relationships, relationships. The best predictors of adult success and well-being are a childhood in which one feels accepted and nurtured; an empathic coping style at ages 20 through 35; and warm adult relationships. … Mental health, as Sigmund Freud and Erik Erikson indicated, is embodied by the capacity to love and to work.
The other overarching message of this book is that resilience counts. Men with the most mature defense mechanisms—defined as altruism, humor, sublimation (finding gratifying alternatives to frustration and anger), anticipation (being realistic about future challenges), and suppression (yes, “keeping a stiff upper lip”)—were three times more likely to flourish in later life. Furthermore, men with good defense mechanisms were able to alter their paths by developing the capacity for emotional warmth and connection to others despite difficult upbringings or individual setbacks.
Obviously, none of us can go back in time and edit our childhoods. But we can work on those other things. So two tasks for today:
1. When something irritating/bothersome/bad happens, see if you can’t spend your emotional energy working around it rather than feeling upset and powerless. Coping mechanisms! Resilience! Wooooo!
2. Reach out to a friend who is valuable and that you love, but have not been in touch with lately.