The Grant Study
Episode #6 of the course “Brilliant Social Psychology Experiments”
The Harvard-Grant study, lasting 75 years, measured the viability of love. Researchers systematically gathered data on the life experiences of 268 male undergraduates at Harvard (1938-1940) who are now mostly over the age of 90. You may be surprised to learn about the overarching finding of the study. As it turns out, The Beatles were telling the truth: “Love is all you need”—researchers found that the most important element in measuring happiness and satisfaction over a person’s lifetime was simply love!
A principal investigator of the study for over 30 years, Dr. George Vaillant wrote several books describing the two groups’ participants in the study at middle and elderly age. The books summarize the results and name a few factors that impacted life experiences for participants: alcohol use, financial success, political-mindedness, and childhood relationships with parents.
First, alcoholism was the main cause of death and divorce among the participants, and it led to depression. Second, financial success indicators showed more of a correlation with relationship building than with intelligence. Participants reporting “warm relationships” were able to earn $141,000 more than others between the ages of 55-60.
Concerning political-mindedness, older liberals were more sexually active and showed a higher connection with intimacy, specifically with men over 80 years old who maintained active sex lives. Further, positive parental relationships showed benefits. Men with good relationships with their mothers made more money and were more effective at work. Men with good relationships with their fathers had fewer anxiety issues as adults and reported higher levels of satisfaction with life. From this study, Vaillant proudly reports that happiness is the key to overall life satisfaction.
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