Can We Trust the Gospels?

Recent Posts

Past Posts Archived by Date

Search this site


Search this site


« Sunday Inspiration from The High Calling | Home | Technology and Theology: Your Ideas »

What Makes Us Happy?

By Mark D. Roberts | Monday, June 8, 2009

The current issue of Atlantic Monthly has a long article with the title “What Makes Us Happy?” The author, Joshua Wolf Shenk, writes about the 72-year-long, in-depth study of 268 men from Harvard. He focuses considerable attention on the current director of this Grant Study, Dr. George Vaillant (pronounced “valiant”).

I will not survey this article here. I commend it to you for your own reading. But I do want to highlight a few crucial excerpts.

One of Vaillant’s primary contributions to the study of psychology has been the importance of “adaptations” to life (sometimes called “defense mechanisms”). Adaptions help us adapt (no surprise here) to what life throws at us. The healthiest and happiest people use “mature” adaptations to cope with life’s struggles, including: altruism, humor, anticipation, suppression (consicious), and sublimation. Neurotic adaptations are common among normal people, and they include: intellectualization, dissociation (not being aware of one’s feelings), and repression (unconscious). Moving further away from health we find “immature” adaptions, such as: acting out, passive aggression, hypochondria, projection, and fantasy. The least healthy adapations would include: paranoia, hallucination, megalomania.

Vaillant identifies “seven major factors that predict healthy aging, both physically and psychologically.” Using mature adaptions is one key factor. The others are “education, stable marriage, not smoking, not abusing alcohol, some exercise, and healthy weight.” (I like the adjective that goes with exercise!) (Photo: The cover of Vaillant’s  book, Aging Well.)

Vaillant also points to  important of relationships in a life of health and happiness: “It is social aptitude, not intellectual brilliance or parental social class, that leads to successful aging.” When asked in 2009 “What have you learned form the Grant Study men?”, Vaillant answered, “That the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships with people.”

If you’re like me, at this point you want to take stock of your life. I wonder: How do I react to life’s challenges? Are my adaptations mature? To what extent does my life containt the seven factors that contribute to healthy aging? Do I have strong, healthy relationships?

Topics: Happiness |

5 Responses to “What Makes Us Happy?”

  1. Bill Goff Says:
    June 8th, 2009 at 6:26 am

    As one who has recently retired I am intensly interested in aging well. Lately I have learned that the transition from working full time to being retired is more challenging than I anticipated. I want to recommend a book that has been very helpful in preparing me for retirement: “Younger Next Year” subtitled “A Guide to Living Like 50 Until You’re 80 and Beyond” by Chris Crowley (a retired attorney) and Henry S. Lodge, M.D. (a young physician). One helpful feature of the book is that the authors are quite specific about what some exercise means. Among other things it involves wearing a heart rate monitor. Here is one of my favorite quotes from the book: “We are not tired at the end of the day because we get too much exercise. We are tired because we do not get enough exercise. We are mentally, emotionally and physically drained from being sedentary.”

  2. Vaughn Says:
    June 8th, 2009 at 7:05 am

    Ergh. I guess my life would be a case study in how Not to age well. The question then becomes at what point is it too late to change? If our social skills have atrophied to the point of near uselessness, is there any hope of redemption?

  3. Randy Says:
    June 8th, 2009 at 8:09 am

    Vaillant needs to add an eighth major factor, i.e., a healthy spiritual life. Turning to God is the best adaptation there is for coping with life’s struggles.

  4. Joe Arnett Says:
    June 8th, 2009 at 9:48 am

    I agree with Randy that a healthy spiritual life should be added to the list. Somewhere I heard this story(maybe some of you have heard it, hope I got it correct). An elderly person asked their minister how they would know when their life’s work was complete. The minister answered, If you’re breathing, it isn’t!! The point being that, as followers of Jesus Christ, there is always something for us to do which is productive and/or helpful to others in any circumstance we find ourselves.

  5. Toni B Says:
    June 8th, 2009 at 10:44 am

    I say it is never to late to make any healthy lifestyle changes-it’s the not changing that will kill ya! Amen for good friends, a little alcohol, good food, a little exercise, a responsive God, and tons of laughter!


Thanks for your willingness to make a comment. Note: I do not moderate comments before they are posted, though they are automatically screened for profanities, spam, etc., and sometimes the screening program holds comments for moderation even though they're not offensive. I encourage open dialogue and serious disagreement, and am always willing to learn from my mistakes. I will not delete comments unless they are extraordinarily rude or irrelevant to the topic at hand. You do need to login in order to make a comment, because this cuts down on spam. You are free to use a nickname if you wish. Finally, I will eventually read all comments, but I don't have the time to respond to them on a consistent basis because I've got a few other demands on my time, like my "day job," my family, sleep, etc.

You must be logged in to post a comment.