Read an outstanding article in the Atlantic magazine entitled What Makes Us Happy? the other day. I mean, this was really interesting.
It was about a researcher, George Vaillant, who had devoted his entire career to a study conducted at Harvard. He and his team followed a group of men who had graduated from Harvard during the 1930’s. They watched their lives to determine, essentially, whether or not there is a formula for success.
What interested me even more than the findings of the study (which were very fascinating) was the study of Vaillant’s life that occurs in this article. The man was married four times, to three different women. He had strained relationships with his children.
This man, who devoted his life to the study of the lives of others in order to discern what brings about happiness and success, seemed unable to apply this information in his own life. He can dispense knowledge from a lifetime of experience and study, but he doesn’t necessarily take his own advice.
What does this mean for you and I? I think there are a couple of key take-aways from this:
1. Everyone we come into contact with has the potential to teach us something. The study has followed 268 men for over 72 years now. The only thing they had in common is they all graduated from Harvard during a three-year time span in the late 1930’s. Some ended up wealthy, healthy, married for 60+ years and surrounded by family members throughout their lives. Others literally fell down while drunk and died.
All of these men had something to teach the researchers. Maybe some taught them things TO do, and others taught them what NOT to do, but each life was instructional.
We need to keep our eyes, ears and minds open to every person we meet, regardless of their circumstances or outward appearance. EVERYONE has something to teach.
2. It’s not about knowledge, it’s about action. All this knowledge about the mechanics and traits of success couldn’t keep Vaillant from multiple marriages and strained relationships.
He obviously had to know what the key indicators were for what society would generally term “success” and “failure”. More than almost anyone else, he had the ability to capitalize on other people’s experience to make a life for himself that most would be jealous of.
And yet, it didn’t mean a thing because he didn’t apply the lessons he learned. He admits that there is a disconnect between what he studied and how he lived.
Knowledge that comes from the head is great. But it takes more than that to motivate us to action. It takes an emotional decision from the heart to apply that knowledge that really makes us grow.