Predicting ‘healthy aging’

July 16th, 2009 by Admin

From The Washington Times, 7/15/09

There have been two major developments recently in the study of happiness, with dramatically divergent approaches. First, the Gallup Organization offers a detailed daily measure of happiness in the United States, based on 1,000 nightly in-depth interviews. Call it the national happiness pulse. A few initial findings: The ratio of happiness to stress is about 5 to 1 on an average day, but 1-1 for lonely people; weekends are the happiest days; and women worry more than men.

Second, a journalist was given unprecedented access to the archives of a 72-year study on the lives of 268 men who entered college in the 1930s. Writing in the Atlantic about the Harvard Study of Adult Development, Joshua Wolf Shenk reported, “The project is one of the longest-running – and probably most exhaustive – longitudinal studies of mental and physical well-being in history,” including interviews, questionnaires, medical exams and psychological tests.

Psychiatrist George Vaillant led the study for 42 years and compared the experience to looking through the world’s most powerful telescope for the views it has provided into the soul. He observes that, like wines, longitudinal studies improve with age: The findings get richer. What a rich data set it is, including a U.S. president (though John F. Kennedy’s files are sealed until 2040), a best-selling novelist and four candidates for the U.S. Senate. Yet by age 50, nearly a third of the subjects had met Dr. Vaillant’s criteria for mental illness during a segment of their lives, with some confronting substance abuse, depression, suicide and more.

Witnessing that kind of complexity, Mr. Shenk observed in the Atlantic, “The study began in the spirit of laying lives out on a microscope slide. But it turned out that the lives were too big, too weird, too full of subtleties and contradictions to fit any easy conception of ‘successful living.’ ”

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