Mental and Physical Well-being

The Grant and Glueck Longitudinal Studies

Walking ProgramsSeven Factors Predicting Healthy Aging

  • Employing mature adaptations
  • Education
  • Stable marriage
  • Not smoking
  • Not abusing alcohol
  • Exercise
  • Healthy weight

Major Findings

  • Men who had 5 or 6 factors at age 50
    • 50% were 'happy-well' at age 80
    • 7.5% were 'sad-sick' at age 80
  • Men who had 3 or fewer factors at age 50
    • None were 'happy-well' at age 80
      • even if they were in adequate physical shape at age 50
    • Three times as likely to be dead at age 80

Other Findings

  • Exercise
    • Regular exercise in college predicted late-life mental health better than it did physical health.
  • Depression
    • With depression by age 50, more than 70 percent had died or were chronically ill by age 63.
  • Relationships
    • Relationships (family, friends, mentors) at age 47 predicted late-life adjustment better than any other variable, except defenses.
    • 93% who were 'happy-well' at age 65 had been close to a brother or sister when they were younger.
  • Social economic upbringing
    • Mortality rates in the inner city men (Glueck Study) at age 68 to 70 resembled the Harvard men (Grant Study) at 78 to 80.
      • Higher mortality rates related to less education, higher obesity, and greater abuse of alcohol and cigarettes
      • Parental social class, IQ, and current income did not relate to mortality
      • Inner-city men who graduated from college (about 6%) were just as healthy as the Harvard men (Grant Study).
    • Inner-city men were 50% more likely to become dependent on alcohol than the Harvard men.
      • Inner-city men who became dependent upon alcohol were twice as likely to eventually get sober as compared to the Harvard men who became dependent on alcohol.
  • Childhood industriousness
    • In the Glueck Study, childhood industriousness predicted adult mental health better than any other factor
      • even including family cohesion and warm maternal relationships.
      • childhood industriousness was indicated by whether the boys had engaged in activities including:
        • part-time jobs, chores, school clubs, sports teams

"What we do affects how we feel just as much as how we feel affects what we do."

"...the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people"

Factors with No Effect

  • Blood cholesterol
    • Cholesterol levels at age 50 did not relate to health in old age.
  • Social ease
    • Social ease is associated with good psychosocial adjustment in college and early adulthood, but its significance diminishes over time.
  • Childhood temperament
    • Shy, anxious children tend to do poorly in young adulthood.
    • But by age 70, they are just as likely as the outgoing kids to be 'happy-well'.

"If you follow lives long enough, the risk factors for healthy life adjustment change. There is an age to watch your cholesterol and an age to ignore it."

Vaillant's Defence Taxonomy

Healthiest 'Mature' Adaptations

  • Altruism
    • unselfish interest in the welfare of others
  • Humor
  • Anticipation
    • looking ahead and planning for future discomfort
  • Suppression
    • a conscious decision to postpone attention to an impulse or conflict, to be addressed in good time
  • Sublimation
    • finding outlets for feelings
    • examples: putting aggression into sport, or lust into courtship

Normal 'Neurotic' Adaptations

  • Intellectualization
    • mutating the primal stuff of life into object of formal thought
  • Dissociation
    • intense, often brief, removal from one's feelings
  • Repression
    • may involve inexplicable naivete, memory lapse, or failure to acknowledge input from a particular sense organ

'Immature' Adaptations

  • Acting Out
  • Passive Aggression
  • Hypochondria
  • Projection
  • Fantasy

Unhealthiest 'Psychotic' Adaptations

  • Paranoia
  • Hallucination
  • Megalomania

Adaptation Frequencies throughout Life

  • Toddlers:
    • 'Psychotic' adaptations are prevalent
  • Later Childhood
    • 'Immature' adaptations are essential, but fade with maturity
  • Adolescents
    • Twice as likely to use 'immature' defences and 'mature' ones
  • Mid-life
    • Four times as likely to use 'mature' defences
  • Between 50 and 75 years of age
    • 'Mature' adaptations grow more prevalent
    • Immature defences grow more rare

"What's the difference between a guy who at his final conscious moments before death has a nostalgic grin on his face as if to say, 'Boy, I sure squeezed that lemon' and the other man who fights for every last breath in an effort to turn back time to some nagging unfinished business?"


Grant Study

  • One of the longest-running and comprehensive longitudinal studies of mental and physical well-being in history
  • Begun in 1937, following 268 men throughout throughout their life (72 years)
  • Harvard Study of Adult Development

Glueck Study

  • 1970 Revival of a defunct 1939 study of over 480 underprivileged boys from poor, mostly foreign-born parents.

Shenk, JW, What Makes Us Happy?, The Atlantic, p 36-53.

Quotes by George Vaillant, longtime director of the Grant and Glueck Studies (since 1969).

Related Articles