I’m a voracious reader and wanted to start posting a few book reviews on this blog as part of gathering and presenting resources that I think are useful for our community.
The book Triumphs of Experience: The Men of the Harvard Grant Study by George Vaillant is a notable book on many levels.
The book presents the culmination of 75 years of studying one group of men, in an effort to determine what elements make for a flourishing life. It began in 1938 as an attempt to learn something about optimum health and potential and the conditions that promote them. It’s a longitudinal study of 268 men that allowed researchers to compare the older person with themselves as a younger person. It is a unique, unprecedented look at human life and development directed by 4 generations of scientists.
You may wonder - so what? This blog is about narcissism, what does this study possibly have to offer about that? The answer is the conclusions that flourishing in life is more likely if early childhood relationships are warm and loving, while “selfishness is not the result of too much love in childhood, but of too little.” The conclusions also support that nurture has a significant impact on long-term quality of life. Experts in narcissism all agree that problems with attachment in early childhood sow the seeds for narcissism in adulthood. The findings of this book seem to confirm that theory.
The book covers all sorts of topics (and doesn’t address narcissism directly at all). Given my interest in narcissism, some of the most interesting findings related in the book are below:
"In short, it was the capacity for intimate relationships that predicted flourishing in all aspects of these men’s live." (comment: Narcissists do not have the capacity for successful intimate relationships.)
"Men with warm mothers took home $87,000 more than those whose mothers were uncaring."
"There are 2 pillars of happiness revealed by the Grant Study. One is love. The other is finding a way of coping with life that does not push love away." (comment: Narcissists push love away.)
"The most important influence by far on a flourishing life is love. Not early love exclusively, and not necessarily romantic love. But love early in life facilitates not only love later on, but also the other trappings of success such as prestige and even big income. It also encourages the development of coping styles that facilitate intimacy, as opposed to ones that discourage it."
"The seventy-five years and twenty million dollars expended on the Grant Study points, at least to me (the author and lead researcher for 40 years), to a straightforward five-word conclusion: “Happiness is love. Full stop.”
"What goes right in childhood predicts the future far better than what goes wrong."
"It is not any one thing good or ill - social advantage, abusive parents, physical weakness - that determines the way children adapt to life, but the quality of their total experience.”
"Successful old age is indirect fruits of a childhood experienced or recalled as warm and intimate, for it is such childhoods that give children their best shot at learning to put their trust in life. Many measures of success throughout life are predicted less reliably by early financial and social advantage than by a loved and loving childhood."
"By the time the men were into their seventh decade, the Loveless were eight times as likely as the Cherished to have experienced a major depression."
"The 59 men with the warmest childhoods made more money than the 63 men with the bleakest childhoods."
"For many of the Loveless men (loveless in childhood), it was hard to let love in."
"A poor childhood (in terms of love) led (first) to an impaired capacity for intimacy and (second) to an above-average use of mood-altering drugs."
"So how does a child learn to trust what he feels and other peoples' responses to his feelings? When you're just getting the hang of grief, rage, and joy, it makes all the difference in the world to have parents who can tolerate and "hold" your feelings rather than treating them as misbehavior.”
"It's not enough to be loved, you have to let love in. Liking and trusting has to be learned."
"The study found some facets of adulthood in which a good relationship with one parent or another exerted the more important influence. As the men approached old age, their boyhood relationships with their mothers were associated with their effectiveness at work, but their relationships with their fathers were not. A man's maximum late life income was significantly associated with a warm relationship with his mother as was his continuing to work until 70."
"Poor childhood was very significantly associated with poor later adjustment. The bottom line is what being unloved does to a child's capacity to be loved and to be loving, later. Some children manage to develop this capacity in spite of everything. But the ones who do not learn to love, or cannot let themselves be loved, do indeed lead lives of woe.”
In many ways the findings of this long term, in depth study, confirms what has been theorized about narcissism - that the nature of connection and love in early childhood effects adult behaviors, that the seeds of adult narcissism are sown in early childhood.