Harvard Mental Health Letter

Questions & Answers: What are the signs that a person will be happy in retirement?

Questions & Answers

Q. What are the signs that a person will be happy in retirement?

A. It doesn't depend on income or status acquired earlier in life, according to research reported by Dr. George Vaillant and his colleagues in the April 2006 issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry. For more than three decades, Dr. Vaillant of Harvard Medical School has managed the Study of Adult Development, based on data gathered over a lifetime from more than 700 men born around 1929. The study has already provided insight into the child and adult sources of happy and unhappy work lives, as well as the ways in which success or failure at work is related to success or failure in intimate relationships and the risk of depression or alcoholism.

All the men in the study were white and all came to adulthood in the prosperous years after World War II. Although women and non-whites were therefore excluded, social class was more varied. Almost two-thirds of the men participating in the study grew up in poor inner-city neighborhoods. The rest were relatively privileged Harvard graduates.

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