The title of this post comes from George Vaillant, the director of one of the longest running longitudinal studies of physical and mental well-being that has ever been undertaken. My attention was drawn to him and his study by Josh Miller after he posted a link on Facebook to this article by Joshua Wolf Shenk in the Atlantic (thanks Josh).
Researchers at Harvard have been following 268 men who entered Harvard in the late 1930’s and who are now in their 80’s. I embed the video of Vaillant talking about the study because it affirms two things I have always tried to embody in my life.
First, Vaillant says of the study:
“The take home lesson is to always enjoy where you are now.”
A simple lesson, a difficult task. But the study offers a view of each concrete life in one sweep, not as a series of moments, but each as a kind of whole. In this it is akin to great literature. To see the whole of life in this way is to be reminded of its brevity, and of its incalculable depth.
Second, Vaillant says, “Happiness is love, full stop.” Here too is something decisive, for to enjoy where you are now is at its core to respond each moment with living attention to those with whom your life is made meaningful.
Happiness is not an individual achievement, but a cooperative activity rooted in engaged encounters and animated by love.