One of the more interesting things about the Grant Study is that it exists at all. This longitudinal study followed hundreds of Harvard men though 75 years of life – beginning in 1938. That alone is quite an accomplishment. But the study aimed higher. It wants to know (and dares to tell us): What makes us happy?
The Business Insider synopsis (link below) has a link to a lengthy article in The Atlantic from 2009, which goes spelunking into the caverns of data collected in this study. (I haven’t read the longer article yet. If there are moral or ethical land mines ahead, well, proceed at your own risk.)
Of course, from our oh so highly evolved vantage point 75 years later, the very premise of this study does seem a bit quaint – if not ridiculously condescending. Let’s compromise there and agree to call it somewhat limited in scope.
The only people qualified to be part of this study were men (presumably white) born c. 1920 who entered Harvard College (so, sufficiently educated and wealthy) in the late 1930s. They got their start in life just after the end of WWI and found themselves at Harvard just before the outbreak of WWII. They survived the deprivations of Prohibition and their fortunes had survived The Crash. All in all, they’d had a fairly cushy berth on the way to participating in the Grant Study. (A soupcon of context: JFK was just two years ahead of these Harvard plebes.)
But, it’s where each man went from there, what he went on to achieve, and how much fulfillment he reported over the years that informs the study and its conclusions. One drank himself to death before the ink was dry on his sheepskin. One said he ‘wouldn’t change a thing’ after 60 years of marriage. And everything in between. Or, as much of “everything” as this plaid-clad cohort is likely to have experienced in 20th century American life. Is there a formula for happiness? Can two people even agree on a definition of happiness? And might we surmise some natural divergence among the post-graduate experiences available to a man from Yale or Princeton, or – heaven forfend – Berkeley?
George Valliant, who piloted the study for three decades, has succinctly stated the study’s findings: “Happiness is love. Full stop.”
As for the fairer sex… this study would advise her to marry a liberal Harvard man who loves moderation and his mother – and then hang on tight. Your reward, apparently, comes in your seventh decade and beyond. Unless you’d rather be shopping, in which case you should choose a conservative Harvard man.
One GET OUT OF DETENTION card goes to the first person who correctly identifies (in Comments) the source and meaning of the title of this post. (Unless you’re Kip Meyer, Class of ’84.)