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Triumphs of Experience
 
 

Triumphs of Experience [Kindle Edition]

George E. Vaillant
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Review

"George Vaillant's book on the development and well-being of a longitudinal sample of men, now in their nineties and studied regularly since they were undergraduates at Harvard University, also reads like a riveting detective tale, despite revealing the solution at the start: "Happiness is love"...The study's superficially simple message is engagingly delivered by its author...He has a thought-provoking story to tell..." --E. Stina Lyon, Times Higher Education, 13 December 2012

Product Description

At a time when people are living into their tenth decade, the longest longitudinal study of human development ever undertaken offers welcome news for old age: our lives evolve in our later years and often become more fulfilling. Among the surprising findings: people who do well in old age did not necessarily do so well in midlife, and vice versa.

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4.0 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
By Jippu
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The Harvard Grant study is unique: a group of very special (in my country we call them people who are born with a gold spoon in their mouth) men who have been followed intensively from their university studies (with lots of backgrounds material) to the present, more than 70 years. Most of them are still alive and well. You get fascinating case studies, revelations (somebody has been able to hide his horrible mother relationship until old age) and also, interestingly, how fashions change in psychology. Everything from cranial measurements to life stories has been tried with these guys. All possible theories have been proved wrong.
The fact is that we should have lots more such studies. Almost every study would be worth while when repeated sufficiently often.
But we have this one, and it is quite interesting!
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Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a technical book based on extensive use of statistical data. However, it is also a fascinating description of how outcomes in long lives are affected by a multitude of factors. A remarkable book.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Difficult to understand tables on the kindle 2 Dec 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I was prompted to buy this book following an interview with George on Radio 4. The author uses individual stories to illustrate a point, the book would have been easier for me to read if there were more of these. This book contains a lot of appendices and tables that are difficult to view clearly on the kindle. Would have been better to buy the hard copy.
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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  67 reviews
41 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Power of Longitudinal Research 5 Dec 2012
By Rishikesha Krishnan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Some of the oldest and most contentious debates on human beings centre around the relative influence of heredity (genetics), environment and individual voluntary action on growth and development. These include whether mental illness has genetic origins, what factors determine "success" in life, and whether adults continue to "develop" as they grow older (or whether all development happens before a certain age). These questions cross disciplinary boundaries as they involve concepts from psychology, psychiatry, sociology, and genetics.

Great thinkers like Freud and Erikson made significant contributions to these debates, but many of their contributions were based on intuitive theorizing rather than rigorous empirical evidence. With time and careful research, some of their theories have been upheld, and others disproved! The studies that have made the most impact are longitudinal studies in which a carefully chosen cohort of respondents was tracked periodically over an extended period of time.

The Harvard Grant Study

One of the most well known of these studies is the Havard Grant study which commenced in the late 1930s and early 1940s and continues till this day. The survivors of the cohort (who were Harvard sophomores when they were recruited) have now entered their 90s, and the data collected therefore allows several inferences to be drawn on adult development.

George F. Vaillant was the director of the Harvard Grant Study for over two decades. His latest book, The Triumphs of Experience, presents the latest findings. I found it a fascinating read as it not only uncovers new insights, but also questions some of the conclusions reached at earlier stages of the study. The Harvard Grant Study draws its conclusions from rigorous multivariate analysis, but Vaillant presents the findings with a distinctive and rare combination of statistical rigour and empathy for his subjects - in addition to tables containing the statistical results, there are profiles (disguised, of course) of different respondents of the study, and these give the reader a sense of being part of the study team.

The original design and subsequent evolution of the study show how much our models of adult development have changed over time. At the time the study started, physical constitution and mental health indicators were expected to be important predictors of subsequent progress of the study. Parental/family relationships and childhood upbringing were thought to be unimportant. Yet, the latest Harvard Grant Study findings show that loving relationships during childhood are important for longevity and success in life.

Findings of the Harvard Grant Study

Some of the important findings of this study reported in The Triumphs of Experience:
Individuals develop through their adult lives as well, not only upto the stage of adolescence.

The impact of childhood trauma decreases over time; more importantly, the positive experiences of a loving childhood have enduring impact.

Being well integrated and self-driving while young helps people live longer.

Divorce led to happier marriages than the bottom third of sustaining marriages.

Alcoholism had bigger negative impacts than measured by most previous studies. It accounted for more than half of the divorces in the Grant Study. The study shows that it is unlikely that alcoholics can return safely to social drinking, thereby upholding the methodologies followed by organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous.

The involuntary coping styles predicted by Freud exist, and they are important for human effectiveness.

Important Lessons for Management of Long-term Research Programs

The Harvard Grant Study is interesting from a research management perspective as well. Over its 70+ year lifespan so far, the study has transcended several research directors and team members, but the integrity of the study has not been compromised. George Vaillant estimates that about $ 20 million has been spent on the study over time, with an average cost of $10,000 per research paper published. The study has had different sponsors at different times, and while the study had to adapt itself to the priorities of these sponsors (such as a major retailer, cigarette company and a program against alcoholism), it still managed to sustain the collection of data related to its core research questions.

With its emphasis on the choice of appropriate control variables and other related issues of study design, this book is a great primer on how to design and adapt longitudinal research studies for maximum research impact.

Rishikesha Krishnan, IIM Bangalore
44 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "FASCINATING, ELEGANT, INSPIRING!" 5 Nov 2012
By Geraldine Ahearn - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This book is a Must-Read for Senior Citizens, by George E. Vailant, M.D. Through extensive research that was conducted on a long-term basis, the author presents reports on all aspects of male life as he offers welcome news for men who are retired. Dr. Vailant reports that our lives become more fulfilling than before as he presents comprehensive and concise information that's based on a study of 200 men, and explains what it's like to bloom beyond retirement,while he includes reports on the entire life span. In addition, the author shares his findings on all aspects of male life, offers reports on major findings, and concludes what makes a successful and healthy life. Interesting facts are presented on DNA studies, alcoholism,and how human growth continues long after maturation. The author is a Great storyteller as he explains the Grant Study of men through age 91, which is the most important study of the life span ever done. Babyboomers will enjoy this intriguing story of human development,as they read about the findings in a study of individuals for the Harvard Study of Adult Development. This incredible book is insightful, with a blend of humor as it draws the reader's attention immediately. 'TRIUMPHS OF EXPERIENCE' is also Enjoyable, Educational, and filled with Wisdom. Highly Recommended!
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Longest Day--A Lifetime 5 Nov 2012
By BBB - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A well written and documented description of a life-long cohort study of middle class young white men conducted by established investigators. Important insights are provided into critical psycho-social and medical issues bearing on all-round success in life. The importance is stressed of a warm early upbringing as well as the capacity for and receptiveness of intimacy (love.) Particularly revealing is the major impact of heredity and the destructive effect of alcoholism on the life history, sometimes emerging only after many years. A must read.
20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Useful and informative but too tedious 27 Aug 2013
By John Martin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Triumphs of Experience is Harvard Professor George Villant's account of a study undertaken by Harvard University of men as they aged from college students to old age. The study is limited to men (and presumably white men) because men are easier to follow over the years than women. Given the length of the study many researchers were involved with it over time. On page 41 Professor Villant lists ten predictors of flourishing in old age, what he calls the "Decathlon of Flourishing." These include such factors as getting listed in "Who's Who in America" (achievable for Harvard men perhaps but largely out of reach for most of the rest of us), highest earned income, and good marriage. The book then goes on to examine how the participants did on these factors and gives a number of life stories.

Some of the conclusions that Professor Villant reaches are:

1. The most important influence by far on a flourishing life is love.
2. People can change over time.
3. An understanding of adaptive coping is crucial.
4. What goes right is far more important than what goes wrong.

I found the book to be tedious in that Professor Villant goes on to great length to discuss topics that could be covered more succinctly. I recommend the book for anyone who wants to examine the question of how to age successfully. Both men and women can benefit, but obviously men will derive more.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating long-term study of Harvard Graduates 8 Dec 2012
By Andrew Meyer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book is a fascinating study of 268 men who were followed since 1938. It shows how actions one takes at one point in their lives effects what happens later in life. It also asks interesting questions about correlations between things. For example, do people who exercise regularly healthier or do people who are healthier exercise more? Which is the cause and which is the effect? These are the types of questions that are answered.

This book would be interesting to someone who wants to know about the long term effects of certain things (marriage, exercise, smoking, drinking, education etc.) on men who are starting from a position where they should have some control over their own lives. i.e. white men who graduate from college with good prospects in front of them.
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