Post-Thanksgiving Laundry Bliss??
Enjoy exactly where you are now--whatever your age or circumstances. It's OK to be young--and it's OK to be old.
And, if you're so lucky, enjoy the piles of dirty laundry gathering on the floor from the kids and grandkids and company when they come to visit & bring their messes!
-Dr. George Vaillant, the Grant Study's lead investigator for the last 42 years-
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By 2:30 pm on this post-Thanksgiving Sunday, the last of my kids had headed out the door for the long journey home. Car travel with the same challenges of everyday life. Constant rain. Terrible traffic. A fender bender. Crying, wet, & hungry children.
And my husband & I leisurely started the "Great Post-Holiday Clean-Up".
Thanks to Dr. George Vaillant, I've completely reframed dirty laundry, toy-strewn floors, poopy diapers, 10 pairs of shoes at the doorway, and messy houses to mean, "Happiness, joy, family, and good times." Really!
It's not often that I'm so deeply touched by (& actually remember) the lessons of a long-running sociological study--but the Grant Study is one that keeps echoing in my head. The picture of piles of shoes at the door & the piles of laundry in the basement is what does it for me. This past weekend was no exception.
Back in May of 2009 I summarized Joshua Wolf Shenk's memorable Atlantic essay about the Grant Study in "What Makes Us Happy? Insights from Harvard's Grant Study - Joshua Wolf Shenk & Dr. George Vaillant Answer In The Atlantic". I just reread it. You should, too!
"Is there a formula--some mix of love, work, and psychological adaptation--for a good life? For 72 years, researchers at Harvard have been examining this question, following 268 men who entered college in the late 1930s through war, career, marriage and divorce, parenthood and grandparenthood, and old age."
-Joshua Wolf Shenk, in "What Makes Us Happy?" The Atlantic, June 2009-
If Only I Knew Then What I Know Now
Eleven Grant Study Lessons for Twenty-Somethings to Ninety-Somethings
1. Age 25-35 is the toughest for virtually everyone. It's scary stuff--what will I amount to? But all you need is to give it time--things will work out! It's not about keeping up with the Joneses or how much money you're making. (H.L. I keep reminding my kids about this one!)
2. Emotional crises, pain & deprivation are "analogous" to the involuntary grace by which an oyster, coping with an irritating grain of sand, creates a pearl. Humans, too, when confronted with irritants, engage in unconscious but often creative behavior."
3. "Pessimists seemed to suffer physically in comparison with optimists--perhaps because they're less likely to connect with others or care for themselves."
4. Relationships Rule! "It is social aptitude, not intellectual brilliance or parental social class, that lead to successful aging." Warm connections are necessary--and it doesn't have to be from mom or dad--it can be with siblings, uncles, friends, or mentors.
5. Relationships at age 47 predicted late-life adjustment better than any other variable, except defenses.
6. Good sibling relationships. Getting along with your brothers & sisters is especially powerful: 93% of the men who were thriving at age 65 had been close to a brother or sister when younger.
7. Between ages 50-75 Life Improves. Altruism & humor grow. The negative unhealthy behaviors start to diminish.
8. Gratitude and joy, over time, will yield better health and deeper connections--but in the short-term, they do put us at risk, because they expose us to rejection & heartbreak.
9. What's the most important lesson that Vaillant (the lead investigator) has learned from the study? "That the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people."
10. Happiness is about playing and working and loving. And loving is the most important of them all. Happiness is love. Full stop.
11. Enjoy exactly where you are now--whatever your age or circumstances. It's OK to be young--and it's OK to be old.
My Morning Coffee with the NYT's David Brooks: The Life Reports II
I planned to write all about "Feeding the Family for Five Days--the Winners & Losers in the Thanksgiving Food Fest". No worries, I haven't given up that plan. I still want to share the recipes that we liked best--and give you a "heads-up" on what needed improvement.
But, then I read David Brooks' column , "The Life Reports II", this morning--and I was on to a more important tack than food.
Life Lessons from folks over seventy.
Notice some of the similarities to the Grant Study.
David Brooks wrote: "A few weeks ago, I asked people over 70 to send me “Life Reports” — essays about their own lives and what they’d done poorly and well.
They make for fascinating and addictive reading, and I’ve tried to extract a few general life lessons."
It's worth reading--but, honestly, I somehow expected more. Absolutely, read the Life Report of B. Clewly Johnson!! His top ten lessons are all winners in my book!
Here are David Brooks' 10 nuggets of gold:
1. Beware of rumination. Steer clear of obsessively over-analyzing every emotion, relationship, slight, setback, or disappointment. Balanced thoughtful self-examination is a good thing. Rumination is not.
The ruminating essayists "often did not lead the happiest or most fulfilling lives. It’s not only that they were driven to introspection by bad events. Through self-obsession, they seemed to reinforce the very emotions, thoughts and habits they were trying to escape." (H.L. Very similar to #3 of the Grant Study lessons.)
2. Sometime Self-Deception is a good thing. Think of it as optimism. "Many of the most impressive people, on the other hand, were strategic self-deceivers. When something bad was done to them, they forgot it, forgave it or were grateful for it. When it comes to self-narratives, honesty may not be the best policy." (H.L. I'm a huge fan of looking for the silver-lining. Notice how similar this is to #2 in the Grant Study lessons?)
3. You can't control other people. One of Brooks' essayists, "David Leshan made an observation that was echoed by many: 'It took me twenty years of my fifty-year marriage to discover how unwise it was to attempt to remake my wife. ... I learned also that neither could I remake my friends or students.'" (H.L. Amen to David Leshan!)
4. Lean toward risk. "Many more seniors regret the risks they didn’t take than regret the ones they did." (H.L. I readily admit it. I'm risk-averse, but have to agree with this one. I've almost always been rewarded when I've taken a risk. Like in this post from 3 1/2 years ago: Worried, Nervous, Anxious, Afraid? Remember - Courage Comes With Practice!) "There's no doubt about it---Everything wonderful & memorable in my life has come when I pushed beyond my fears, covered my eyes, held my nose & took a leap. Well, on second thought, maybe not everything. A lot of good things have come because I'm sensible, not a risk-taker, and cautious. It's all about balance. Courage coupled with common-sense.)
5. Measure people by their growth rate, not by their talents. Live your life with relentless self-expansion. I like the sound of that! According to Brooks, "the best essays were written by people who made steady progress each decade." Who wants to reach their peak in high school or college? (H.L. I'm hoping I'll reach my stride by age 75.)
6. Be aware of the generational bias. This one didn't surprise me much. Most of Brooks' post-70-something essayists "had ambivalent attitudes toward their parents." It really was a different generation. "Many writers mentioned that given their own flaws, they are astounded that their kids turned out so well." (H.L. I agree with them--and many of my friends say the same about their kids.)
7. Work within institutions or crafts, not outside them. "For a time, our culture celebrated the rebel and the outsider. The most miserable of my correspondents fit this mold. They were forever in revolt against the world and ended up sourly achieving little."
8. It's too bad we have to make our most important decisions in our 20's, at the age when we're least qualified to do so. (H.L. No way around this one. In our 20's we often choose our career paths and our mates--decide where we'll live & whether or not to have children. Crazy! If only we knew then, what we know now--hindsight is 20-20. It's the luck of the draw at age twenty--my advice is to seek counsel from people who are wise, happy, honest, self-aware, & successful--and I mean "successful" in the broadest sense of the word.)
9. People get better at the art of living. "By their 60s many contributors found their zone. Metaphysics is dead; very few of the writers hewed to a specific theology or had any definite conception of a divine order, though vague but uplifting spiritual experiences pepper their reflections." (H.L. Exactly what we learned from the Grant Study. Between ages 50-75 Life Improves. Altruism & humor grow. The negative unhealthy behaviors start to diminish.)
10. Finding the balance between hard-earned realism, self-preservation, generosity, & being present for others in our life. Brooks is disturbed by the contradictory philosophies many essayists wrote about. "For example, we are told to live for others. But one savvy retiree writes, 'Don’t stay with people who, over time, grow apart from you. Move on. This means do what you think will make you feel okay — even if that makes others feel temporarily not okay.'” Is that selfishness, Brooks wonders. (H.L. I don't have a problem with these contradictions. Common sense & balance in all things! It's possible to hold 2 contradictory outlooks in your hand at the same time--and use them "as necessary". Isn't this the same sage advice of Hillel?
If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when? )
I'd love to hear your feedback on both the Grant Study Lessons, and Brooks' Life Reports II.
Have any of them proven true in your life? Or not.
Any guiding life lessons or rules you can share with us?