Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Passion Party #349 - What Makes Us Happy

In 1938 Dr. Arlie Bock conceived of a study that would "attempt to analyze the forces that have produced normal young men" in an attempt to define the factors "which in toto is commonly interpreted as successful living".

Underwritten by millionaire W. T. Grant, this study began in 1939 by choosing 268 male Harvard Students, and was later enlarged by studying 332 "disadvantaged" white male youths from Boston's inner-city area (The Glueck Study). "The Grant Study" continues today under the leadership of George Vaillant, who took over the study in 1967.

It has followed these men with periodic medical and psychological tests, as well as recording life events (jobs, marriages, children, etc.) that have occurred.

Looking back 70 years later, the flaws in this longitudinal study are obvious: Why Harvard students? Why only white males? Wouldn't it be good to know what makes women happy as well?

More telling, the study begins to reflect more the philosophy of the man running the study, George Vaillant, than the study itself. His book published in 1977, "Adaptation To Life" presents tales that reflect Vaillant's belief that the best way to be happy in life is to sublimate or suppress conflict, or repress uncomfortable thoughts (like a marriage that went bad, for example).

But is ignorance or avoidance truly bliss?
Aren't we better served by
experiencing and traveling through the pain,
so that we can then
truly experience the pleasure and joy
that life has to offer?

(special thanks to the Joshua Wolf Shenk article in the June 2009 Atlantic Monthly entitled "What Makes Us Happy?")

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