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What Makes Us Happy?

May 15, 2009

For 72 years, researchers at Harvard have been following 268 men who entered college in the late 1930s. The men agreed to have regular medical exams, in depth interviews and assessment tests, and the study has collected this data form each one of the men through war, career, marriage and divorce, parenthood and grandparenthood, and old age.

Want an overview of what shapes the trajectory of a human life? This articles could shed some light.

The custodian of the research project, George Vaillant, in giving his perspective on what determined a happy or miserable life focused on how different individuals in the study adapted to the inevitable stresses and strains of living:

At the bottom of the pile are the unhealthiest, or “psychotic,” adaptations — like paranoia, hallucination, or megalomania — which, while they can serve to make reality tolerable for the person employing them, seem crazy to anyone else. One level up are the “immature” adaptations, which include acting out, passive aggression, hypochondria, projection, and fantasy. These aren’t as isolating as psychotic adaptations, but they impede intimacy. “Neurotic” defenses are common in “normal” people. These include intellectualization (mutating the primal stuff of life into objects of formal thought); dissociation (intense, often brief, removal from one’s feelings); and repression, which, Vaillant says, can involve “seemingly inexplicable naivete, memory lapse, or failure to acknowledge input from a selected sense organ.” The healthiest, or “mature,” adaptations include altruism, 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), and sublimation (finding outlets for feelings, like putting aggression into sport, or lust into courtship).

via The Atlantic


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