Secret to a happy life

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At 19 years old, Godfrey Minot Camille was a tall redheaded boy with a charming manner who planned to enter medicine or the ministry. On the 10th anniversary of his ing the study, each man was given an Secret to a happy life through E rating anticipating future personality stability. But if Godfrey Camille was a disaster as a young man, by the time he was an old one he had become a star. His occupational success; measurable enjoyment of work, love, and play; his health; the depth and breadth of his social supports; the quality of his marriage and relationship to his children—all that and more combined to make him one of the most successful of the surviving men of the study.

What made the difference? How did this sorry lad develop such an abundant capacity for flourishing? These are the kinds of questions that can only be answered by a study that follows participants over the course of a lifetime, and the study in which Camille participated—known as the Grant Studybecause it was originally funded by entrepreneur and philanthropist William T. Grant—is now the longest longitudinal study of Secret to a happy life human development ever undertaken, and is still on-going.

I arrived at the Grant Study in I became its director ina position I held until The single most personally rewarding facet of my involvement with the Grant Study has been the chance to interview these men over four decades. This was certainly the case with Camille, whose life illuminates two of the most important lessons from the year, million-dollar Grant Study.

One is that happiness is love. The other lesson is people really can change. Unloved and not yet grown into a sense of autonomy, Camille as a student adopted the unconscious survival strategy of frequent reports to the college infirmary. After graduation from medical school, the newly minted Dr. Camille attempted suicide. But several sessions with a psychiatrist gave him a different view of himself. It was an apology, a self-inflicted punishment for aggressive impulses.

Then, at age 35, he had a life-changing experience. His illness, a real one, finally ended up giving him the emotional security that his childhood—along with his hypochondriacal symptoms and subsequent careful neutrality—never had.

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Camille felt his time in the hospital almost like a religious rebirth. Released from the hospital, Dr. Camille became an independent physician, married, and grew into a responsible father and clinic leader. His coping style changed as the decades passed. He was now functioning as a giving adult. Whereas at 30 he had hated his dependent patients, by 40 his adolescent fantasy of caring for others had become a reality. When I was 55 and Camille was almost 70, I asked him what he had learned from his children.

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Before there were dysfunctional families, I came from one. As that tale recounts tenderly, only love can make us real. Denied this in boyhood for reasons I now understand, it took me years to tap substitute sources. What seems marvelous is how many there are and how restorative they prove.

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What durable and pliable creatures we are, and what a storehouse of goodwill lurks in the social fabric. I never dreamed my later years would be so stimulating and rewarding. Once he grasped what had happened, he seized the ball and ran with it, straight into a developmental explosion that went on for 30 years.

A professional awakening and a spiritual one; a wife and two children of his own; two psychoanalyses, a return to Secret to a happy life church of his early years—all these allowed him to build for himself the loving surround that he had so missed asand to give to others out of its riches. At 82, Godfrey Minot Camille had a fatal heart attack while mountain climbing in the Alps, which he dearly loved. His church was packed for the memorial service. Folks change. But they stay the same, too. Camille had spent his years before the hospital looking for love, too. It just took him a while to learn how to do it well.

InI delved into the Grant Study data to establish a Decathlon of Flourishing—a set of ten accomplishments that covered many different facets of success. Two of the items in the Decathlon had to do with economic success, four with mental and physical health, and four with social supports and relationships. We found that measures of family socioeconomic status had no ificant correlation at all with later success in any of these areas. Alcoholism and depression in family histories proved irrelevant to flourishing at 80, as did longevity.

The sociability and extraversion that were so highly valued in the initial process of selecting the men did not correlate with later flourishing either. In contrast with the weak and scattershot correlations among the biological and socioeconomic variables, a loving childhood—and other Secret to a happy life like empathic capacity and warm relationships as a young adult—predicted later success in all ten of the Decathlon.

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We found, for instance, that there was no ificant difference between the maximum earned incomes of the men with IQs of — and the incomes Secret to a happy life the men with IQs of plus. So when it comes to late-life success—even when success is measured strictly in financial terms—the Grant Study finds that nurture trumps nature. And by far the most important influence on a flourishing life is love. Not early love exclusively, and not necessarily romantic love. But love early in life facilitates not only love later on, but also the other trappings of success, such as high income and prestige.

It also encourages the development of coping styles that facilitate intimacy, as opposed to the ones that discourage it. The majority of the men who flourished found love before 30, and the data suggests that was why they flourished. If you follow lives long enough, people adapt and they change, and so do the factors that affect healthy adjustment. Our journeys through this world are filled with discontinuities. Nobody in the Study was doomed at the outset, but nobody had it made, either. Inheriting the genes for alcoholism can turn the most otherwise blessed golden boy into a skid row bum.

Conversely, an encounter with a very dangerous disease liberated the pitiful young Dr. Camille from a life of loneliness and dependency. Who could have foreseen, when he was 29 and the Study staff ranked him in the bottom three percent of the cohort in personality stability, that he would die a happy, giving, and beloved man?

Only those who understand that happiness is only the cart; love is the horse. And perhaps those who recognize that our so-called defense mechanisms, our involuntary ways of coping with life, are very important indeed. Before age 30, Camille depended on narcissistic hypochondriasis to cope with his life and Secret to a happy life feelings; after 50 he used empathic altruism and a pragmatic stoicism about taking what comes.

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The two pillars of happiness revealed by the year-old Grant Study—and exemplified by Dr. Godfrey Minot Camille—are love and a mature coping style that does not push love away. Above all, the Study reveals how men like Dr. Camille adapted themselves to life and adapted their lives to themselves—a process of maturation that unfolds over time. Indeed, I have always regarded the Grant Study as an instrument that permitted the study of time, much as the telescope uncovered the mysteries of the galaxies and the microscope enabled the study of microbes.

For researchers, prolonged follow-up can be a rock upon which fine theories founder, but it also can be a means of discovering robust and enduring truth. Secret to a happy life the outset of the Study init was thought that men with masculine body types—broad shoulders and a slender waist—would succeed the most in life. That turned out to be one of many theories demolished by the Study as it has followed the lives of these men. To benefit from the lessons both of the Grant Study and of life requires persistence and humility, for maturation makes liars of us all.

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George E. Vaillant, M. His book, Adaptation to Lifeis a classic text in the study of adult development. Become a subscribing member today. Scroll To Top At 19 years old, Godfrey Minot Camille was a tall redheaded boy with a charming manner who planned to enter medicine or the ministry. Get the science of a meaningful life delivered to your inbox. About the Author George E. Vaillant George E. This article — and everything on this site — is funded by readers like you. Give Now.

Secret to a happy life

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