I’ve been reading about the Harvard Study of Adult Development and the Terman Study of Gifted Children (the Women’s Sample).
Even though the titles may sound dry, these studies on how we humans age vibrate with life, lessons, and good news.
The Harvard Study of Adult Development included two groups of men (numbering about 800 each) who were studied from their teens until their death. It is one of the longest studies of adult life ever conducted, spanning about 70 years.
The Terman Study of Gifted Children included 672 girls. Begun in 1920, professor Terman followed this group of brilliant girls through adulthood and on until death.
Reading about these studies and their various findings has been exceptionally encouraging.
Here’s just one of the findings to emerge from these studies:
- Bad things that happen to us do not doom us, but good people who
happen to us at any age help facilitate enjoyable old age
Teachers, ministers, coaches, scout leaders, aunts, uncles and others who encourage us, can change our lives for the better all the way into old age.
What’s more, adults who merely showed an interest in the child, turned out to make that child’s life more rewarding and that child’s old age more enjoyable. (A smile, an encouraging word, just showing interest is enough to make a life happy. Isn’t that amazing!)
I know that this is also true for adults. Sometimes as I’m hurrying through my day, someone will make a chance comment about me or my work or my marriage or my house and completely change the tenor of my day.
Think about it. Someone gives you a compliment and you feel good for hours. Someone else teases with a cutting comment and you feel "down" for hours or maybe days.
We humans wield so much power it’s scary.
The finding that bad, hurtful experiences in our youth do not doom us to an unhappy old age is a priceless gem.
Almost all of us experience serious trauma as we grow up. It could be the death of a beloved teacher or relative. It could be the suicide of a friend. It could be failure at something we really wanted to succeed at. Or being bullied. Or domestic violence in the home.
The studies show that these difficulties, these failures and traumas do not doom us to a miserable old age.
The good news is: we aren’t helpless victims because of bad things that happen to us.
More good news is that all the people who encouraged us when we were young, and all the good friends or acquaintances who support us as we make our way through adulthood contribute to a happy old age.
That finding makes me grateful for the priceless gift I’ve been given by all the encouraging folks who’ve crossed my path.
It also makes me want to encourage others so that their life journey will be a good one all the way to the end.