Until very recently, I was calling the love a grandparent has for their grandchildren “unconditional love.” In talking with my son and others, I realized that many, including parents, may qualify their love for their children as unconditional. Now I realize the better word is “mature” love.
Earlier this month I attended an event presented by the Family Action Network at New Trier High School. The speaker was Dr. George Eman Valient. He’s a psychiatrist and Harvard Medical School professor, who oversaw Harvard’s Grant Study of Human Development, the longest study of human development ever undertaken.
He offered up a series of very valuable insights about the curative power of maturation, a golden benefit of aging.
The Grant Study shows that humans keep on changing until the end of their days. There is no point in our lives where our character is written in stone, where we are done maturing, where all is either lost, or won.
We keep forming new attachments, our personalities continue to refine as we age, and love that may have seemed out of reach in our twenties, or a settled fact in our forties, can spring alive again well into our eighties.
That can be true of love relationships, for example those who lose a spouse after 40, 50 or even 60 years together, and find that their heart can still welcome new love. That is a personal story for me as well.
But this is also true in how we grow our relationship with our grandchildren, as they too age and mature.
Dr. Valient’s view is that intimacy, career consolidation, a need to nurture and guide younger people and a desire to contribute to the next generation, are the keys to successful adult development.
His new book, Triumphs of Experience sums up the Grant study results, now that the participants are well into their nineties.
“Happiness is love. Full stop. But in order to permit love to make you fulfilled, you have to be able to take it in, which means that you have to feel inside that you are loved, instead of finding all kinds of rational reasons why people are just acting as if they love you.
“The importance of metabolizing love is essential. To push love away can destroy one’s life. But metabolizing love has an extraordinary restorative power, and even if you have not had love in childhood, at 75 you can be very content and happy.”
What leads to flourishing in old age? A loving childhood. A capacity for empathy. A history of warm, intimate relationships—and the ability to nourish them in maturity – this is the strongest predictor of flourishing.
Not your family of origin, nor your social economic status. Not your degree of charisma or sociability as a young person. Not IQ, not athletic prowess.
Our American society at this time in our lives labels us as “Golden Agers” or “Senior Adults.” Some other cultures call their older people Elders, as a respect for the Wisdom, Knowledge and Life Experiences they have had over the years.
So Elders, I want to create an atmosphere of teaching and learning from each other.
I want to unleash our creativity to make a difference in our grandchildren’s lives.
Photo Credit: RockIn’Rita on Flickr