'Two babies are born on the same day at the same hospital," begins a joke by
the deadpan comic Steven Wright. After gazing at each other across their cribs
for a few hours, they get whisked away by their respective families, never to
see each other again for the next 90 years. Then, by a strange twist of fate,
they find themselves lying on their deathbeds next to each other in that same
hospital. One of them turns to the other and asks: "So—what'd you think?"
In the late 1930s and early '40s, 268 Harvard undergraduates—all men, as
Harvard wasn't coed at the time—were recruited for a long-term psychological
study. Interviewing them regularly over the coming decades, Harvard scientists
aimed to pinpoint the personal attributes that most reliably predict a
successful life: that is, a life of superior achievement and income, good
physical and mental health, and happy marital and parental relationships. The
Harvard Grant Study, as it is called—its original funder was chain-store magnate
William T. Grant—has churned out findings ever since."