Indulge me with one more personal editorial on the Harvard Study on aging. The head of the study George Valliant, although trained as a psychoanalyst, bluntly declares that "Freud vastly overestimated the importance of childhood." After reading many articles on the study it was clear that a great deal of emphasis was put on the importance of discovering whether the subjects considered their childhood experience as being among the ‘cherished’ or ‘loveless’. Fact after fact was based firmly on the premise that cherished children were successful in almost all categories. There was a clear connection between success and a happy childhood. But, the greatest surprise (and perhaps no surprise at all) was that in older age, through experience or coping mechanisms, the childhood experience could be superseded.
One of the subject members named Godfrey Camille, at 19 was an intractable and unhappy hypochondriac. The predictors of his success in life were very low. But his is the life that illuminates two of the most important lessons from the 75-year, 20-million-dollar Harvard Study. One is that happiness is love, Omnia vincit amor, or “love conquers all”. The other lesson is people really can change. As we see in the example of this man’s life. Loving relationships, even if not present at childhood, can make all the difference. He lived into his 80’s and overcame all negative predictors and flourished in loving powerful relationships. No one is trapped by the past if there is honest openness to give and receive love. In this scientific world we live in and the medical model for all things pertaining to health, we have lost sight of the most powerful medicine of all. Love conquers all!