EARLIER THIS MORNING, I read of a study conducted on men that sought to measure the factors that contribute to an “optimum” life. The project was originally started in 1939 by a group of researchers at Harvard’s medical school and is known as the Grant Study. This particular study offers insights gleaned from over seven decades of interviews and questionnaires completed by the same group of men that began at the age of 18 years old. The men are pushing into their nineties leaving behind a trail of data and extensive information about who they are, how they’ve come to be and other factors that led them through life - factors such as, childhood, relationships in adulthood, marriages, influence of fathers and mothers and even maternal grandfathers.
Reading through this study that sought out to find answers to how a man finds success in life, and even how he defines success, caused me to think of the importance of story. We each have a story, not yet fully written. There are pages to be written and life yet to be lived.
But is there a point when we settle in to the story and simply follow?
What gets us to where we want to be in life? Is the sum of who we are a result of innate characteristics wrapped up in our genetic makeup or who we are shaped and nurtured to be? Can life be given to cause and effect or our effort to become?
The findings collected from volumes of data collected throughout the Grant Study have identified many factors that have contributed to full life, but in the end, Vaillant’s answer is quite simple: “...our lives when we are old are the sum of all of our loves.”
Competitively exists the opposite in our culture, a drive to get, rather than give, as path to happiness and a covetousness of all that we don’t own. Many of us are so consumed with being someone else that we don’t allow who we are to flourish. Who we are gets buried beneath maligned definitions of success, achievement and happiness, to the point where love is devalued and owning and having is the ultimate value to maintain in life. In opposition to this individualism, winner-takes-all mentality within our culture is the Gospel and the roots of the early church. Shoulders bearing the weight of others, lives being open to neighbors in relationship and service being the chief mode of daily life to aspire to, is the picture we see in the book of Acts, not individuals grasping for all that can be had, but a collective of people - brothers and sisters - who belonged to one another and whose hearts belonged to a Kingdom beyond what could be seen.
When each of us grow close to the end of this life, all that we will truly have will be as Vaillant concluded, “the sum of all of our loves.” You have a story to be lived that should be led and guided by love as the ultimate value. And not the type of love that simply wants or appreciates, but the type of love that binds you to what truly matters. Love guides us to truth and always to what matters most.