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Aging Well: Surprising Guideposts to a Happier Life from the Landmark Harvard Study of Adult Development

3.95  ·  Rating Details ·  279 Ratings  ·  40 Reviews
In a unique series of studies, Harvard University has followed 824 subjects from their teens to old age. Professor George Vaillant now uses these to illustrate the surprising factors involved in reaching happy, healthy old age.
Paperback, 384 pages
Published January 8th 2003 by Little, Brown and Company (first published 2002)
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Richard Weijo
Dec 15, 2014 Richard Weijo rated it really liked it
Aging Well by George E. Vaillant, MD. (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2002).

I am very impressed by this book. The findings from Aging Well are based on a longitudinal study of the lives of three different groups of elderly men and women. One group is 268 male Harvard University sophomores selected between 1939 and 1942, most of who continued to participate in this study for nearly 60 years (or until their death). The second group is a sample of 456 disadvantages Inner City men born in 1930
Jul 21, 2013 Celia rated it liked it
I might have given this book two stars. It was readable but I thought me and the author had a personality clash.

Some of the Harvard men led such remarkably good lives that I felt had not much relationship to mine or many "ordinary" people.

Also I know many people who have enoyed their retirement so seeing what made people enjoy retirement was not an issue for me.

The author stresses the importatance of family and children in sucessful aging. While I am married(which he also said was important),
May 21, 2016 Frank rated it really liked it
A lot of anecdotes, but they are useful in demonstrating the author's ideas. A summary chapter would have been useful.

It is a hopeful book, in that Vaillant writes that your childhood has diminishing influence on your mental and physical health as you get older.

Having a large social circle that you care about is definitely good for maintaining a long life of health. Of course, you read about the usual suspects: don't smoke, don't abuse booze, have a great marriage, guide the young. So much of
Dec 18, 2012 Al rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I undertook this book after reading a favorable review of its recently-published sequel, Triumphs of Experience, in the WSJ. For over 40 years, Dr. Vaillant has led a Harvard study extending across the entire lives of a large (250+) group of Harvard graduates. Those subjects who are still alive are now in their late eighties or older. In this book, published in 2002, Dr. Vaillant reports on his findings as to what factors influence how lives (mostly men's, but a few women's as well) turn out. T ...more
Jun 06, 2012 Rebecca rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Adult development, what an interesting idea! Fun to read about people in their 80s whose lives were followed in one of three studies, all brought together in this book. Some had very difficult childhoods; others began their lives with every advantage. We learn--Meeting up with good people can improve your life; alcohol and cigarette abuse are really bad for you; it's good to make new friends as the old leave or die; helping others can be really good for you. I read this at a good age. I was tell ...more
Feb 15, 2011 Michael rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A masterpiece, a special blend of empirical research and wisdom from the humanities; it's firmly among the greatest in my pantheon of great books. Vaillant writes with grace, and this book is even better than his landmark Adaptation to Life. The vignettes are revealing, joyous, sad, moving, and beautifully perceptive. It is a book I'll be rereading and giving as a gift many times throughout my life. VERY highly recommended!
Sep 20, 2012 Aschiele rated it it was amazing
This is a must-read for anyone dealing with aging or friends/family who are aging. Inspirational and surprising, this longitudinal case study is a fascinating read for anyone with an interest in psychology, aging, and what makes us happy as humans.
Claudia Jordan
Apr 01, 2008 Claudia Jordan rated it it was amazing
If we should learn what we need to be doing in our lives 10 yrs before we are doing it I'm about on track for this one. Plan ahead! :)
Jul 20, 2012 Ilda rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 28, 2012 Jean rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have always loved Self-Help books and nothing has changed there except I'm now reading books such as Aging Well!!!!! This would be a great read for someone in their late 40's/early 50's to learn from the well-documented longitudinal studies of three different groups of people from their childhood or teens into their late 70's or older. The author, Dr. George E. Vaillant, illustrates his points well with actual histories and it is interesting to have stories of actual people, although most name ...more
Kathryn Bashaar
Apr 01, 2013 Kathryn Bashaar rated it liked it
I read this book about 10 years ago when it first came out and I thought it was really good, so I wanted to re-read it now that I'm closer to being old. I didn't get as much out of it this time. I think I had already absorbed most of its lessons 10 years ago and am living them. Still, some of the bios were interesting, and it did re-affirm NOT to get stale as I age, and especially not to allow my social circle to shrink, which I imagine is pretty hard when everybody you knew starts dying. Also e ...more
Sep 11, 2011 Ryan rated it really liked it
Great statistics and great anecdotes, both working together to give a general picture of healthy aging. Made me both hopeful and apprehensive (still) about the topic of aging and eventually passing on. You could some it up, more or less, into six basic statements: don't be an alcoholic, don't smoke, be very generous with what you have, develop social connections at every step of life, continually play regardless of your age, and love deeply and freely. Always good advice.

As with most non-fiction
Jan 25, 2008 Buffy added it
I learned from this book that aging well relies on more that just the physical care of the body. Relationships are another key aspect of living a healthy life, and this book reminded me that I do not want to get to the end of my life and not have had good friendships in it. I was also surprised to learn in this Harvard study that level of education played a role in aging well. I am a committed life-long learner.
Nov 13, 2011 Bumbierītis rated it did not like it
This book made me very upset. Alright, it was an experiment and I assume some of the data were useful/interesting. But the whole narrative is just stupid. The author marks all introvert people and especially the ones that aren't hyped about his little study as failures. You must have a wife and preferably still work 40 hours a week at the age 78 to be deemed successful. One model fits all, oh yea...
Jan 13, 2013 Gwen rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 12, 2011 Lam rated it it was ok
I skimmed a lot of this and skipped one or two chapters entirely. I read it for a book group and would never have chosen it to read it on my own. Some of the stories of people's lives were interesting. However,I am very suspicious of studies like this when they try to draw conclusions about people in general. And the longitudinal studies used as the basis for this book had a very narrow base.
Jun 09, 2013 Nuala rated it it was amazing
Shelves: life-learning
George Vaillant is one of my thought-heros. A leading academic, researcher and writer, he does not seek the spotlight but earns complete trust. The findings in this book have stood up to a decade of active research in numerous disciplines. If you want to age well, and who doesn't, read it for yourself and be creative in finding ways to share these essential findings with those you love.
Aug 22, 2008 Peter rated it liked it
The author teaches at Harvard, so the explanations of the research methods and analysis were, at times, a little over my head. But overall, the text was accessible, I found the discoveries fascinating...and what a great topic!
Joy Fox
George E Vaillant is a medical doctor who followed a longintudinal study of three cohorts or individuals as they aged. It is full of inspiration albeit, a tad dry of a read.
Dec 30, 2010 Joe rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ebook-kindle
Fascinating empirical study of what factors really make a difference towards enjoying old age.
Paul L'Herrou
Jun 24, 2012 Paul L'Herrou rated it really liked it
Very good (in most respects) based on human development research following populations over a long period of time.
Jan 05, 2014 Douglas rated it liked it
There is some excellent wisdom in this book, but it is hidden in lengthy anecdotes and rambling. Here's hoping all my goodread friends "age well".
Jun 28, 2016 Gretchen rated it really liked it
Stories are usually interesting and Vaillant's work is replete with vignettes of ~800 individuals who took part in three landmark studies on aging representing men from privileged backgrounds, men from socially disadvantaged backgrounds and women from middle-class families who were intellectually gifted. What happened to them after 20, 50, even 80 years of life? This very in-depth study explores the process of aging and gives one hope in a culture that is obsessed with youth.

"I had expected tha
Jul 25, 2015 Adrienne rated it really liked it
Very exciting to consider stages of development as continuing throughout adulthood as well as childhood and adolescence. Dr. Vaillant identified a lot of valuable trends. Especially appreciated his emphasis on needed to be caregiving biologically downstream (to the younger generations). Gave me a lot to think about re: what my parents demanded from me as a kid.

The downside is that I felt that the science was sometimes a bit slight, since it did rely so heavily on anecdotes (though these, of cour
Feb 26, 2012 Glennie rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012-reads, health
This book was a review of 3 different aging studies and it was very interesting,, although some parts were a bit tedious to get through. I liked the interviews with the people. Some had some very interesting lives,, and very interesting things to say about getting older.
One said: "Each moment should be appreciated and fully lived. Dwelling on the past or anticipating the future at the expense of the 'Now' cheats a person of life's wondrousness."
Another said: "Share Socrates' love of the search,
Marvin Soroos
This book was recommended to me by a retired friend. I found it to be rich in insights about the factors that contribute to a good quality of life in later years. The book is based on three longitudinal studies of cohort groups that periodically examined the lives of individuals from young adulthood into old age. The author not only reports on general social scientific findings, but also provides fairly lengthy profiles of individuals who illustrate the successes or failures of aging. I highly r ...more
Jun 14, 2014 Gigi rated it it was amazing
I wish this book on many of my friends. I read it for a conference session in July 2013 with Fielding Graduate University ahead of listing to George Vaillant speak. Both the book and George were a treat. I learned so much about my own biases on aging and what makes a healthy, resiliant life. The book follows three groups of robust lives across the decades along with this longitudinal Harvard study. I was intrigued by the different correlations of relisance versus social biases on a "normal" life ...more
Feb 13, 2016 Tracy rated it liked it
Reading this book for a class on ministry to seniors. Longitudinal study of a population from youth to old age. I haven't seen those movies that interviews the same people every 7 years, but same idea. I think its going to be pretty interesting.

The book was a tough slog, as is any academic survey to me, but full of rich information about those who agree week and those who don't and why. Valiant is pretty engaging and that helped.
Here is my comment in my Spanish Blog:
Generativity; meaning and integrity. Those are the values that a person has to take care of in order to age as a successful human being. Personally; I think that the meaning is the most difficult to cultivate; because some people spend all their lives not even knowing what they want or what moves them.
Apr 24, 2014 David rated it it was amazing
I found this book full of gems about human development. From youth to old age this book delivers the current thinking on how humans develop at various stages of life. The emphasis is on the later years and what it seems to take to do so well. The keys are here--some of us are already on a good track and some of us may be able to tweak a few things to get there. Read and enjoy this book, in turns clinical and heartwarming.
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George Eman Vaillant, M.D., born 1934, is an American psychiatrist and Professor at Harvard Medical School and Director of Research for the Department of Psychiatry, Brigham and Women's Hospital.

Vaillant has spent his research career charting adult development and the recovery process of schizophrenia, heroin addiction, alcoholism, and personality disorder. Through 2003, he spent 30 years as Dire
More about George E. Vaillant...

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“Contrary to all expectations, I seem to grow happier as I grow older. I think that America has been sold on the theory that youth is marvelous but old age is a terror. On the contrary, it's taken me sixty years to learn how to live reasonably well, to do my work and cope with my inadequacies. For me youth was a woeful time—sick parents, war, relative poverty, the miseries of learning a profession, a mistake of a marriage, self-doubts, booze and blundering around. Old age is knowing what I'm doing, the respect of others, a relatively sane financial base, a loving wife and the realization that what I can't beat I can endure.” 3 likes
“To the same question a 78-year-old Study member replied, “All the many plans for the day. I love life and all I do. I love the out of doors…. It is a joy to be alive and living with my best friend.” He was referring to his wife of fifty years with whom his sex life was still “very satisfying.” 1 likes
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