Welcome to the second Acculturated-Ricochet podcast on culture, high and low! In this show, Ben Domenech and Emily Esfahani-Smith interview the Harvard psychiatrist George Vaillant about his new book Triumphs of Experience: The Men of the Harvard Grant Study, which was recently reviewed in the Wall Street Journal and covered by David Brooks in a New York Times column. 

The Grant Study of Adult Development began in 1938 when over 200 promising Harvard men–among them John F. Kennedy, Ben Bradlee, and Donald Cole–were recruited to participate in one of the most comprehensive and ambitious longitudinal studies of all time. Though that may sound somewhat clinical, Vaillant’s book, by following the men through the triumphs and tragedies of their lives, reads more like literature than like science. The characters that come and go on his stage can be Shakespearian; these were Harvard men that should have made it in life–they were destined for success. Did they? If they didn’t, what happened? If they did, what was their secrets? 

There is a fabulous Atlantic article, “What Makes Us Happy?”, from several years ago that goes into some depth about the study. 

Is there a formula—some mix of love, work, and psychological adaptation—for a good life? For 72 years, researchers at Harvard have been examining this question, following 268 men who entered college in the late 1930s through war, career, marriage and divorce, parenthood and grandparenthood, and old age. Here, for the first time, a journalist gains access to the archive of one of the most comprehensive longitudinal studies in history. Its contents, as much literature as science, offer profound insight into the human condition—and into the brilliant, complex mind of the study’s longtime director, George Vaillant.
These days, the men of the study are in their Nineties. For those of you interested in the lessons that they have learned–and in living the good life–then this podcast is for you!

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There are 11 comments.

  1. Inactive

    Really fascinating and just what I needed as a respite from NOV 6 doldrums!

    • #1
    • November 10, 2012 at 4:16 am
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  2. Thatcher

    That was really heartening. Having served as a staff person with The American Journal of Psychiatry during Dr. Vaillant’s tenure on the editorial board, I can testify to his interest in and concern for the “whole” persons whom he treated and studied. Not that those in the profession lack caring today, but as we all know, or intuit, there is a lot less time for that to be made manifest. Excellent podcast!

    • #2
    • November 10, 2012 at 7:42 am
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  3. Member

    Where is the link to subscribe in iTunes?

    • #3
    • November 10, 2012 at 7:58 am
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  4. Member
    Fat Dave: Where is the link to subscribe in iTunes? · 4 minutes ago

    We’re having some trouble getting this to show up in iTunes. For now, use the Super Feed.

    • #4
    • November 10, 2012 at 8:03 am
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  5. Member

    Thanks, Yeti!

    • #5
    • November 10, 2012 at 8:15 am
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  6. Inactive

    Loved Dr. Vaillant…What a fascinating study…Powerful and substantive info…I especially appreciated his including nature as well as nurture in compiling and analyzing the data and results of the subject interviews. I look forward to reading the book…And to more of the Acculturated podcasts.

    • #6
    • November 11, 2012 at 9:29 am
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  7. Inactive

    Thank you for such a wonderful broadcast. I love to read books written by people in their 70s.My sons were bemused to hear about the comment that children become wonderful once they reach 20. Such a sweet story about the man learning about love from his own children loving him.More!

    • #7
    • November 12, 2012 at 6:17 am
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  8. Inactive

    The Atlantic article is fascinating. Here is the findings on political choice:He also found that personality traits assigned by the psychiatrists in the initial interviews largely predicted who would become Democrats (descriptions included “sensitive,” “cultural,” and “introspective”) and Republicans (“pragmatic” and “organized”).

    • #8
    • November 12, 2012 at 6:49 am
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  9. Inactive

    This was my take away from the podcast, said so well here:the power of relationships. “It is social aptitude,” he writes, “not intellectual brilliance or parental social class, that leads to successful aging.” Warm connections are necessary—and if not found in a mother or father, they can come from siblings, uncles, friends, mentors. The men’s relationships at age 47, he found, predicted late-life adjustment better than any other variable, except defenses. Good sibling relationships seem especially powerful: 93 percent of the men who were thriving at age 65 had been close to a brother or sister when younger. In an interview in the March 2008 newsletter to the Grant Study subjects, Vaillant was asked, “What have you learned from the Grant Study men?” Vaillant’s response: “That the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people.”

    • #9
    • November 12, 2012 at 7:02 am
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  10. Inactive

    Conservatives seem to me to be far more connected to others through their moral code and their sense of community. They push away from superficial sexual hooking up for a very good reason, their long term health and happiness.Family and steady marriage and a good cup if tea and a laugh with friends is what gets me through life. Seems that is a good way to achieve a healthy, happy old age.Well done, Ricochet, for such a good podcast. Thus gem needs more promotion.

    • #10
    • November 12, 2012 at 7:11 am
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  11. Member

    You might want to drop this thread. I’m 75 and neither went to Harvard nor conducted a long term study on aging. It took Valliant a life time of research to figure out what everybody knows, young or old. Life has it’s ups and downs. I didn’t finish it since my favorite cartoon was on TV, so maybe he said something interesting finally. And thumbs down to the two interviewers whose dumb questions managed to make it even more boring.

    • #11
    • November 22, 2012 at 6:33 am
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