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

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  380 ratings  ·  59 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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Lynne Spreen
Mar 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Reporters love to interview old people and ask how they reached such an advanced age. In theory this should be helpful, but the elder person is either spinning the story or forgetting the details, so their advice is fanciful, at best. Plus, we sometimes change our view of history to be able to live with ourselves.

But in Aging Well, Dr. George Vaillant reports on the analysis of three longevity studies spanning, in some cases, almost eighty years. During this time, the researchers interviewed in
Richard Weijo
Dec 15, 2014 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
Jul 21, 2013 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 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 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 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 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!
Jan 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
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Sep 20, 2012 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 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 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dec 15, 2018 rated it it was ok
I had to stop reading this book after plowing through about a third. The stories of Harvard elites, brilliant women and even the inner city cohort left me sad and feeling inadequate. And, generally, I am not either. The book, at least the first third, is filled with the observations made by a reviewing panel of psychiatrists, mostly from the Freudian psychotherapy school, using an Eric Ericson framework. The poor subjects are judged over and over again as they age and we are to draw conclusions ...more
Mar 28, 2012 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 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 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
Jan 25, 2008 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 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 12, 2011 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 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 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.
Jan 05, 2014 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".
Dec 30, 2010 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 rated it really liked it
Very good (in most respects) based on human development research following populations over a long period of time.
Rhonda Sue
Jul 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
The author and his team studied three separate cohorts for more than 50 years and this Study of Adult Development has some great advice on what you need to age well and live a happier life post retirement. The cohorts were Harvard men, middle class women and low income men. All caucasians who were followed with questionnaires and interviews for over 50 years.

Positive aging means to love, to work, to learn something new, enjoy the remaining precious moments with loved ones.

Erik Eriks
Mar 07, 2018 rated it liked it
"It's not the bad things that happen to us that doom us; it is the good people who happen to us at any age that facilitate enjoyable old age."

"Successful aging - think JOY."

"To age gracefully the old must learn to part wth all that is nonessential-- and most religious differences arise from nonessentials."

"If a flower blooms once, it goes on blooming somewhere forever.
What is changed is never gone unless we let it go.
You will remember --
And y
Aug 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
Lots of useful insights here. Some takeaways that I had better put to use unless I want to be an old man many years before I should:

Find good people to be with and add to your life. At all ages.

Don’t complain.

Don’t preach, don’t offer unsolicited advice, don’t bitch about “kids these days” or how the younger generation is a bunch of idiots…

Don’t be the kind of person other people won’t want to hang out with.

Ask yourself “How do you make a life that you’ll be glad you made?”
Ann Michael
Jan 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Excellent longitudinal studies of for the most part privileged people from youth to extreme old age. The author became part of the study teams in the 60s and later (depending on the study). In this case, he attempts to determine what a "good" old age consists of and what factors lead to it.

I found his psychologist jargon occasionally irritating (he is a student & follower of Erickson) and some of the anecdotes a bit too long and occasionally his participation in the studies seems
Oct 22, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Fascinating culmination of three longitudinal studies conducted over lifetimes of participants yielded information helpful for developmental view of adult lifespan. Education had more of an effect on positive life outcome than income level, when all was said and done. Meaning by the time participants were in their 90’s, their education levels were more predictive of their levels of happiness and health than their income levels were. The effects of childhood, both positive and negative, were none ...more
Feb 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
I've heard allusions to the Harvard longitudinal study for years and this overview of the results of that study (compiled with a few other non-Harvard studies to slightly diversify the demographics) did not disappoint. While the book is not lacking in statistics, it is focused more on the interpretation and spirit of those results. This is conveyed through anecdotes and the director's own take-aways. This does leave room for bias, as the author fully acknowledges, but it also gives the book a wa ...more
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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
“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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