it takes a lifetime to understand lives

no man ever steps in the same river twice;
for it is not the same river, and he is not the same man.
(Heraclitus)

learning from lifetime studies does not stop until the lives have been fully lived – and not even then, because archives of prospective data are an invitation and an opportunity to go back and ask new questions time and time again, even after the people who so generously provided the answers are gone.
the Grant Study (originally called the Harvard Longitudinal Study, and then the Harvard Grant Study of Social Adjustments) received its now-official name in 1947 – the Harvard Study of Adult Development – and is a longitudinal prospective study. it began in 1938 as an attempt to transcend medicine’s usual preoccupation with pathology and learn something instead about optimum health and potential and the conditions that promote them. the first subjects were carefully chosen sophomores from the all-male Harvard classes of 1939, 1940, and 1941, who took part in an intensive battery of tests and interviews. that first group was joined by sophomores from the next Harvard classes, resulting in a final cohort of 268 men. the original intention was to follow these healthy and priviledged men for fifteen or twenty years, supplementing the intake data from time to time with updates. the plan was realized, and more. almost seventy-five years later, the Grant Study still, remarkably goes on. we’re asking different questions now that the founders asked when the Study began. of course the participants are no longer the college sophomores they once were; those who are still with us are very old men indeed. time has called many of the beliefs of those days into question, and some much more recent ones, too. how long our current conclusions will hold up we cannot know. but the Study’s greatest contributions give meaning to the extraordinary generosity, patience and candor of the men who exposed their entire lives in the interests of science.
the absoluteness of the Study’s demonstration that adult development continues long after adolescence, that character is not set in plaster, and that people do change. even a hopeless midlife can blossom into a joyous old age. the Study’s identification and charting of involuntary coping mechanisms has given us at once a useful clinical tool, a route to empathy for initially unlikable people, and a powerful predictor of the future. 

excerpts from the book Triumphps of Experience by George E. Vaillant

                   the most important contributor to joy and success in adult life is love

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