Seven Factors Predicting Healthy Aging
- Employing mature adaptations
- Stable marriage
- Not smoking
- Not abusing alcohol
- Healthy weight
- Men who had 5 or 6 factors at age 50
- 50% were 'happy-well' at age 80
- 7.5% were 'sad-sick' at age 80
- Men who had 3 or fewer factors at age 50
- None were 'happy-well' at age 80
- even if they were in adequate physical shape at age 50
- Three times as likely to be dead at age 80
- Regular exercise in college predicted late-life mental health
better than it did physical health.
- With depression by age 50, more than 70 percent had died
or were chronically ill by age 63.
- Relationships (family, friends, mentors) at age 47 predicted
late-life adjustment better than any other variable, except defences.
- 93% who were 'happy-well' at age 65 had been close to a brother
or sister when they were younger.
- Social economic upbringing
- Mortality rates in the inner city men (Glueck
Study) at age 68 to 70 resembled the Harvard men (Grant
Study) at 78 to 80.
- Higher mortality rates related to less education, higher
obesity, and greater abuse of alcohol and cigarettes
- Parental social class, IQ, and current income did not relate
- Inner-city men who graduated from college (about 6%) were
just as healthy as the Harvard men (Grant
- Inner-city men were 50% more likely to become dependent on
alcohol than the Harvard men.
- Inner-city men who became dependent upon alcohol were twice
as likely to eventually get sober as compared to the Harvard
men who became dependent on alcohol.
- Childhood industriousness
- In the Glueck Study, childhood industriousness predicted
adult mental health better than any other factor
- even including family cohesion and warm maternal relationships.
- childhood industriousness was indicated by whether the boys
had engaged in activities including:
- part-time jobs, chores, school clubs, sports teams
"What we do affects how we feel just as much as how
we feel affects what we do."
"...the only thing that really matters in life are
your relationships to other people"
Factors with No Effect
- Blood cholesterol
- Cholesterol levels at age 50 did not relate to health in
- Social ease
- Social ease is associated with good psychosocial adjustment
in college and early adulthood, but its significance diminishes
- Childhood temperament
- Shy, anxious children tend to do poorly in young adulthood.
- But by age 70, they are just as likely as the outgoing kids
to be 'happy-well'.
"If you follow lives long enough, the risk factors
for healthy life adjustment change. There is an age to watch
your cholesterol and an age to ignore it."
Vaillant's Defence Taxonomy
Healthiest 'Mature' Adaptations
- unselfish interest in the welfare of others
- looking ahead and planning for future discomfort
- a conscious decision to postpone attention to an impulse
or conflict, to be addressed in good time
- finding outlets for feelings
- examples: putting aggression into sport, or lust into courtship
Normal 'Neurotic' Adaptations
- mutating the primal stuff of life into object of formal thought
- intense, often brief, removal from one's feelings
- may involve inexplicable naivete, memory lapse, or failure
to acknowledge input from a particular sense organ
- Acting Out
- Passive Aggression
Unhealthiest 'Psychotic' Adaptations
Adaptation Frequencies throughout Life
- 'Psychotic' adaptations are prevalent
- Later Childhood
- 'Immature' adaptations are essential, but fade with maturity
- Twice as likely to use 'immature' defences and 'mature' ones
- Four times as likely to use 'mature' defences
- Between 50 and 75 years of age
- 'Mature' adaptations grow more prevalent
- Immature defences grow more rare
"What's the difference between a guy who at his final
conscious moments before death has a nostalgic grin on his face
as if to say, 'Boy, I sure squeezed that lemon' and the other
man who fights for every last breath in an effort to turn back
time to some nagging unfinished business?"
- One of the longest-running and comprehensive longitudinal
studies of mental and physical well-being in history
- Begun in 1937, following 268 men throughout throughout their
life (72 years)
- Harvard Study of Adult Development
- 1970 Revival of a defunct 1939 study of over 480 underprivileged
boys from poor, mostly foreign-born parents.
Shenk, JW, What Makes Us Happy?, The Atlantic, p 36-53.
Quotes by George Vaillant, longtime director of the Grant
and Glueck Studies (since 1969).