Alcoholism: The secret to long life? Stop drinking!

News websites are full of surveys. Most prove nothing. The rest prove nothing useful.

I’m a big one for calling them out every time they trot out something as interesting, insightful and revolutionary, which is actually common sense, no sense or nonsense.

Then this study comes along, and it’s reaffirmed my faith in statistics everywhere. If mathematicians and scientists could design their own porn, it’d be a naked somebody rolling around on findings just like this.

In 1938, Harvard University began following 268 male undergraduate students and they haven’t stopped. The goal was to “determine, as best as possible, what factors contribute most strongly to human flourishing.”


So what did they study? A truly phenomenal range of psychological, anthological and physical traits – ranging from IQ to personality type to family relationships to drinking habits to the “hanging length of his scrotum”. Depending on your sexual preference, that could be the best or worst job ever.

Compare this to most studies, which ask questions such as:

“If you were a fruit, which would it be?”

“Would you screw a dentist over a fireman?”

“Are you happy? Tell us out of ten.”

“Do you like football? If not, what’s wrong with you?”

“Would you sleep with a guy who owns a Chihuahua? What about a girl that owns a Pug? You wouldn’t? Well that’s harsh. Apparently they’re very nice people.”

With this Harvard study, want to know the big, main, important finding? Well I told you what it was in the title, but let me elaborate. If you don’t know what elaborate means, it’s a fancy word for being fancy.

Anyway, the big main finding is, according to this kick-ass study:

Alcoholism is a disorder of great destructive power.”


This Harvard study found it’s the single strongest cause of divorce, was strongly linked with neurosis and depression, and together with cigarette smoking, alcoholism proved to be the greatest cause of death.

On a side note, those on the left side of politics had much more sex when over sixty-five. Sucked in, Conservatives! At least we don’t have to imagine John Howard sticking it to anyone. Gross. Bob Hawke and Paul Keating? Definitely still at it.

Here’s another belter of a finding: “Men who had ‘warm’ childhood relationships with their mothers took home $87,000 more per year than men whose mothers were uncaring. Men who had poor childhood relationships with their mothers were much more likely to develop dementia when old.”

Which provides a flipside to the age old adage “be nice to your mother”. Apparently, it’s far more important that she’s nice to you.

These fascinating findings can be picked over at length in a book, Triumphs of Experience published by this champion called George Vaillant, who oversaw this study for three decades.

Now the longer work is well worth reading, but George did sum up the study’s findings thus:

“The seventy-five years and twenty million dollars expended on the Grant Study points to a straightforward five-word conclusion: Happiness is love. Full stop.”

This piece first appeared on The Big Smoke:

Xavier Toby is a writer and comedian

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