Having no regrets. We hear that phrase all of the time either from people wishing they had none or from people who confess to having none. I’ve got to admit – I’ve been on both sides depending on what is going on in my life and what kind of mood I’m in.
Several months ago, I heard an interview with Harvard psychiatrist, George Vaillant, about his work and recent book, Triumphs of Experience: The Men of the Harvard Grant Study. Dr. Valliant has been involved with this study since 1967, which, from 1938 until today, has followed hundreds of men in the Boston area and from Harvard. The purpose of the study is to chart the physical and emotional health of over 200 men, starting with their undergraduate days. Many of these men are into their nineties at this point.
While roaming through a bookstore when I was on vacation, I ran across the book and thumbed through it. I found it full of fascinating insight about men and their relationships or lack thereof, their involvement in politics and religion, their careers, how they coped throughout life, and how they handled or didn’t handle their health. By far, with the men involved in this study, the abuse of alcohol was the biggest disruptor of happiness and health, and often, a sure cause of divorce.
There were men who were stymied because of lost chances and opportunities and these feelings clouded up their lives. However, the biggest surprise to me was the changes people could make as they age, that would literally open up a whole new door for them on how they live their lives – with contentment.
In an article about the book written by David Brooks in The New York Times (11/05/12):
“Of the 31 men in the study incapable of establishing intimate bonds, only four are still alive. Of those who were better at forming relationships, more than a third are living. It’s not that the men who flourished had perfect childhoods. Rather, as Vaillant puts it, ‘What goes right is more important than what goes wrong.’ The positive effect of one loving relative, mentor or friend can overwhelm the negative effects of the bad things that happen. In case after case, the magic formula is capacity for intimacy combined with persistence, discipline, order and dependability. The men who could be affectionate about people and organized about things had very enjoyable lives. But a childhood does not totally determine a life. The beauty of the Grant Study is that, as Vaillant emphasizes, it has followed its subjects for nine decades. The big finding is that you can teach an old dog new tricks. The men kept changing all the way through, even in their 80s and 90s.”
What makes for a successful, content and happy life? Is it different for women? While I believe that the focus of women’s lives may be different as we go through the decades, in the end, we’re all humans and we all savor that feeling of peace of mind and being right with world. Old dogs learning new tricks as we go along. That helps, too.
No regrets? That’s my plan. What about you?