Triumphs of experience book

Triumphs of Experience – Part 1 | Healthy Aging Series: S8, E2

Reading time: 3 minutes.

Karate Kid. Cobra Kai. Mr. Miyagi.

I hope I’ve conjured up some images from either the Karate Kid movies or the very successful new series Cobra Kai on Netflix. The Cobra Kai series is so bad that I love it. If you haven’t seen it, it’s about two characters, Daniel LaRusso, and Johnny Lawrence, and their complete and total inability to learn from and let go of the past.

How does this introduction relate to a blog on healthy aging and to the book I am reading “Triumphs of Experience“? Most of us will struggle with our past. We might regret choices and decisions we’ve made. If you’re aging, which all of us are, the years move on, habits are formed, and opportunities are missed. Or, we create a past that will ensure a meaningful and successful future.

What if you could learn from the lives of others, learn from their mistakes, and from her successes? What if you could follow their lives from late adolescence, from 20 years old until they died?

That’s what the Harvard Grant Study did. The results of the study are shared in a book entitled “Triumphs of Experience: The Men of the Harvard Grant Study,” written by George Vaillant.

In 1937, William T. Grant offered Harvard University a huge grant, amounting to $1 million in today’s money, to study men, eventually totally 268 sophomores from Harvard University. Grant owned a chain of department stores and was interested in developing a criteria that would predict the characteristics of a successful store manager.

Warning label: let’s make one obvious observation about this study. The subjects of this study were white men, attending an Ivy League school, and therefore this study can have limited application to most, or at least the majority of people in our country.

Having given you a warning label about the study my advice about reading the book or reading a blog about the study is this: take what you like, and leave the rest. Having said that, this study is seriously a one-of-a-kind study, akin to the longitudinal studies that have been done on nurses and Catholic nuns. Yes, these studies do exist.

I don’t want to bog you down with the details about the study. Chapter 3 of Vaillant’s Book will give you a history of the study. What I do want to do is to give you an overview of the lessons learned from the grant study, and then spend four or five more blogs, breaking down those lessons.

What is the clearest message from this 85 year study? Good relationships keep us happy and healthy. The author, who was also the Director of this study for about four decades, reported that there were two foundational elements gathered from the study. “Love is one,” writes Vaillant.  “The other is finding a way of coping with life that does not push love away.“

So, what were the lessons learned from this study?

First, there is such a thing as good mental health, and having good mental health contributes to a happier and healthier future. Throughout the blogs that I written, I’ve focused on psychological resiliency. Refer to the “How to Keep your Head in the Game” blog that was written a few months back.

Second, there should be a focus on coping skills to help us endure life’s slings and arrows. I have focused a lot on Mindfulness Practices and Medications in my personal life and in my practice. One of the best tools you can learn as you age.

Three, the most important influence on a flourishing life is love. The majority of men in the study who flourished found love before 30. What can I say? I love my wife, my sons, my granddaughters, my family, and my friends. They keep me afloat. They give my life meaning and purpose. Yeah, people who need people…

Four, what goes right is more important than what goes wrong. I liked this lesson. I work out. I learn. I continue to work and stay active. I try to eat right. All these “right” things are helpful in counteracting, or holding off the “wrong” habits and genetics that will event catch up to me.

Five, people can change and people really can grow. People really can grow!! You can teach old dogs new tricks!!

Six, if you follow people’s lives long enough, they change and so do the factors that affect healthy adjustment. It amazed me that it was impossible to predict how a person’s life would turn out. Sure, there were things that made success more or less predictive, but people are unpredictable. You are unpredictable and your future is not yet written. Such hopeful words!

I’m thinking back on the Cobra Kai series, and the endless bickering and fighting and competition that Daniel and Johnnie engage in. Life is best when we can rise above that petty competition and focus on love and relationships. Sounds corny, but as we will see in the coming blogs, only people that learn these lessons turn out to be a real winners.


Triumphs of experience book











To see more entries in the Healthy Aging series, click here.


Eighty Somethings: A Practical Guide to Letting Go, Aging Well, and Finding Unexpected Happiness by Katherine Esty, PhD | Healthy Aging Series: S8, E1

New Format and New Season

I’ve reorganized the format for my blogs to reflect Seasons!

I’ve written 74 blogs for our website, so I’m introducing the next season as Season 8!

Here is what you can expect in Season 8:

I’ve written 5 blogs from the book, “Triumphs of Experience.” This is a study that was started in 1937 that follow 268 men until 2010. It is an amazing book and gives us lots of insight into aging.

I’ve included 3 book “reflections.” They include books by Mel Brooks, and a book by Katherine Esty, “Eighty Somethings: A Practical Guide to Letting Go, Aging Well, and Finding Unexpected Happiness,” as well as a book by my mother’s favorite author, Gladys Tabor.

There is one blog that asks the question: Can you outrun a bad diet?

And then a blog about life after your parents are gone.

I hope you enjoy,



Reading time: 3 minutes

What’s the point of reading a book about people in their 80s? At first glance it seems a little depressing. Maybe that’s partly due to the negative images we have of people in their 80s. I was at a Kroger the other day when I man, seemingly in his 80s, was openly and obnoxiously complaining to an employee about the price of food. He told her that it was cheaper at Meyers. I’m not sure what his point was, but I felt sorry for the employee and I thought “Kroger man“ was reinforcing the stereotype of cranky, mean old people. Honestly, I’m sure if I sat down with him and listened to him, I would have learned a lot. Maybe, he was lonely. Maybe he was having trouble affording food.

I shared the story with my wife and if she was the employee, she would have  asked him what he would like for her to do about it. K. Maybe. Still. Why take it out on the employee? Still. Why make Eighty Somethings look so unkind. I ask again, why read a book about Eighty Somethings? The important thing to keep in mind is: Kroger man does not represent most 80 somethings.

Katherine Esty, in her book Eighty Somethings: A Practical Guide to Letting Go, Aging Well, and Finding Unexpected Happiness, provides a realistic and sympathetic portrait of people in their 80s.

What’s the point of reading a book about people in their 80s? Here are my takeaways from Estes book:

  1. Kroger Man does not represent the vast majority of Eighty Somethings. Esty interviewed 128 people in their 80s and was pleasantly surprised that most were happy despite their ailments.
  2. Folks in their 80s are survivors and have developed lots of skills. Most live on a very limited budget and are doing well. My mother lived on my father’s Social Security and lived well. She seemed to appreciate a simple lifestyle.
  3. Many Eighty Somethings are taking care of grandchildren and at times, they support for their adult children. Eighty Something households often become multigenerational households. Esty points out that many grandparents lack the imagination to see the important roles they could play in their grandkid’s lives.
  4. Most Eighty Somethings are experiencing significant loss and maybe we need to cut them a little slack. Estes shares her story of losses. As an Eighty Something she experience the loss of her husband, her strength and stamina, and friends. My mother would share with me her grief over the loss of my father. She missed him. She often talked about losing her old and new friends. She was generally in good health but in her 80s she fell several times due to her loss of stability and strength. Learning to let go is a common challenge for Eighty Somethings. In fact, it’s maybe the most important challenge of healthy aging.  Eighty Somethings are, of course, closer to dying than younger generations. Mortality awareness, awareness that death is in evitable, although by itself does not affect attitudes about death, does decreases our fear of dying and increases our acceptance of dying.
  5. Eighty Somethings are a wealth of wisdom and are a treasure trove of lessons to teach us. “Part of wisdom,” Esty writes, “is self-knowledge.” It isn’t just the ability to live life skillfully. It isn’t just having more experience or more education, or more degrees. Being wise  means coming to terms with who you are, your authentic self, and then being comfortable being that person. You give up on pleasing others and on trying to make others happy. You know your place in the universe and you rest in it. It seems to me that the successful Eighty Somethings that I have known and have met have something to say about being human, something to say about living, and something to say about dying. Certainly we could use a little wisdom in these times.
  6. More than anything, Esty’s book is a game plan for aging. Throughout her book she encourages people who are approaching their 80s to “write their own script.” “Eight Somethings” is written for everyone, but especially for those approaching their 70s and 80s. It’s a manual of a sort. The people that she writes about are survivors. By the time we reach 80 years-old half of our cohort will have passed on. My take away from her book is if you get the privilege of living into your 80s you have no one but yourself to blame if you become that cranky old man at the Kroger. Writing your own script means you get to decide what your 80s will look like. Esty’s book is optimistic about aging.  She herself is an Eighty Something who has continued to work as a psychotherapist and find meaning in her life. I found her book to be positive and uplifting and it gave me hope as I approach the end of my seventh decade.










To see more entries in the Healthy Aging series, click here.