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Quantifying happiness: Reviewing the Harvard study of adult development

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  1. Introduction
  2. The longitudinal method observing a selected group of Harvard men
  3. Selecting candidates for the study
  4. Limitations on the study
  5. Contribution to behavioral science
  6. Conclusion
  7. References

The ancient Greeks were the first to philosophically study the good life, for example, the writings of Plato, Aristotle, and Epicurus, but the topic was also treated in other historical and cultural sources as well. In the Levant, the ancient Hebrews received the Torah (or the Book) from a series of divinely inspired prophets, originating with Moses, detailing the rules and the laws which were necessary to live a moral and happy existence pleasing to God. Ethics, that is, the study of the good life, happiness, and suffering, has been the cornerstone of Western philosophy and theology for thousands of years with its roots in the ancient world; however, in the modern age, psychiatry and social science have emerged to present quantifiable research as the descriptive alternative to speculation and religion. Since 1937, the Harvard Study of Adult Development has been occupied with collecting physical data to attempt to prove the hypothesis of what constitutes a happy and well-adjusted adult male. The purpose of this paper is to provide a short, non-exhaustive summary and criticism of the methods employed in the Harvard Study of Adult Development.

[...] In fact, Shenk (2009) observes the irony of the Grant Study, in its intention to determine the features of and happy men with an abnormal sample population, by referring to the comments of one of its respondents: said you loved The Sorrow and the Pity and that, in the movie, the sort of men the Grant Study prized fought on the side of the Nazis, ?whereas the kooks and the homosexuals were all in the resistance.'? The sample of the Harvard Study of Adult Development has since attempted to include and to compare results from the Glueck Study and the Stanford Terman study, which focussed respectively on the criminological observations of inner-city juvenile delinquents in Boston and high-IQ children in California; the Grant Study consists of the core data of the behavioral research As its primary contribution to behavioral science is the wealth of data provided by the longitudinal study, covering the greater part of the twentieth and the beginning of the twenty-first century, the Grant Study demonstrates the psychological indicators which are used to cope and to adapt to turmoil, change, adversity, success and failure in its respondents over time. [...]


[...] In reviewing the questionnaires, the interview notes, and the medical material on the respondents, Shenk (2009) claims that Vaillant perceives the Grant Study results as akin to Russian novels grand literary tragedies which sweep the expanse of human life and suggest more than the confines of their text allows. With this remark, it becomes clear that the Grant Study is not solely based in the observational methodology utilized in tracking the life and times of its subjects; but that it is also deeply connected with the interpretive focus, and psychoanalytic orientation of Vaillant. [...]

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