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Triumphs of Experience Essay

In order to guarantee the conceptual soundness of the would-be undertaken longitudinal study of the selected cohort of UCLA students (concerned with identifying/measuring the ‘factors of happiness’, throughout their lives), its theoretical premise must be consistent with the currently predominant socio-cultural discourse. Moreover, it must also be observant of what account for the driving forces behind the process of this discourse attaining ever more of the previously unheard-of qualitative characteristics.

The validity of this suggestion can be illustrated, in regards to Vaillant’s observation that: “Societies are forever changing” (10). In its turn, this presupposes the continual alteration of the manner, in which people perceive the significance of such vaguely defined terms as ‘happiness’. Probably the primary discursive aspect of the discourse of post-modernity, which now encompasses the realities of a modern living in America, has to do with the fact that, unlike what it used to be the case even a few decades ago, the deployment of the positivist approach towards conceptualizing the notion of ‘society’ can no longer be considered thoroughly appropriate.

The reason for this is apparent – in light of recent discoveries in the fields of sociology, biology and cybernetics, the overall quality of a particular human society is not merely summative of the qualities of its integral parts – it is something that creates the discursive realm of its own. As Uphoff and Krishna pointed out: “It (the notion of society) refers not to a single, homo­geneous thing which can be larger or smaller, stronger or weaker, but rather to networks of relationships between state institutions and the citizens within a society who are subject to state authority as well as among those citizens” (358). What it means is that, contrary to what the commissioners of the original Grant Study used to assume, the measure of the society members’ happiness is not something innately ego-centric/individualistic, which implies that it cannot be discussed in terms of a ‘thing in itself’.

One of the major findings of the mentioned Study indirectly confirms the full soundness of such our point of view, in this respect: “Warm, intimate relationships are the most important contributing factor in the establishment of a good life” (Vaillant 37). After all, this particular finding indicates that it is specifically one’s ability to choose in favor of the socially integrated lifestyle, which is the most important predictor of his or her happiness. In its turn, this exposes the erroneousness of the Study’s initial premise (if assessed through the lenses of the discourse of post-modernity) that one’s happiness should be discussed in terms of ‘achievement’, rather than in terms of a ‘continuous process’.

It is even more inappropriate to presume (as the original Study does) that a person’s likelihood to achieve a financial prosperity is being reflective of what happened to be the particulars of his or her racial background/social status. Due to being utterly euro-centric, this premise is profoundly inconsistent with the spirit of cultural relativism, emanated by the process of American society becoming increasingly multicultural, on one hand, and progressively less fond of the neo-Liberal idea that the accumulation of material riches is the actual purpose of one’s life, on the other (Hilton 226).

Yet, this represented the actual rationale behind the original Study’s methodological approach to selecting the would-be engaged participants: “Well-to-do (White) men don’t die early of malnutrition, infection, accident, or bad medical care, as happens much too often to poor… These men had a high likelihood of long life” (Vaillant 10). In this respect, the proposed longitudinal study of UCLA Bruins will be much different – as opposed to what it is the case with the Grant Study, its ‘decathlon of success’ will be inherently holistic.

That is, it will be concerned with measuring the participants’ ‘predictors of happiness’ in close conjunction with what appear to be the measurable aspects of their ability to function as the productive society members. After all, as it was pointed out earlier, there is now indeed a real reason to believe that in the post-industrial society one’s chances to attain happiness and to experience it on a prolonged basis, positively relate to his or her ability to remain on the path of a continual self-perfection – regardless of what happened to be the concerned person’s social status.

The above-mentioned explains our rationale for applying adjustments to the original Study’s approach towards collecting the ‘intake’ data. The chief of them will be concerned with qualifying the predominantly non-White/socially-underprivileged UCLA students to participate in the Study. Such our proposal is dictated by the fact that, even though it is indeed more likely for the lifespan of White/well-off students to be longer than that of their non-White/socially underprivileged counterparts (something that formally makes the former better suited to participate in the longitudinal study), the fertility rate of Whites in the U.S. continues to decline (Ma 2285). In its turn, this significantly reduces the chances of White students to attain happiness through social integration. After all, one’s ability to contribute to the society’s overall well-being continues to be commonly assessed, in relation to what appears to be the measure of his or her eagerness to indulge in ‘baby-making’, as one of the most socially beneficial activities.

The validity of this statement can be illustrated, in regards to the fact that the so-called ‘welfare states’ are dialectically predetermined to honor one’s talent in propagating the species – and, as we are well aware of, the building of such a state has been proclaimed the Government’s official goal (Sandel 11). Because the joys of parenthood are commonly regarded in terms of ‘happiness’, and because the ‘factor of happiness’ (in this respect) can be measured with ease (the more children – the more happiness), we propose that the outcome ‘low in psychological distress’ (in the original Study’s Decathlon of Flourishing) should be replaced with the result ‘the number of children from 25-year-old onwards’.

The appropriateness of such a proposal on our part, can be confirmed even further, in regards to the well-known fact that it is specifically the innately lonely/introvertedly-minded (and therefore often childless) individuals, who are very likely to experience the sensation of psychological distress at some point in their lives, which leads towards depression and alcohol abuse. The original Study’s findings leave only a few doubts about it: “Men of white Anglo- Saxon Protestant (WASP) and Irish extractions had rates of alcohol abuse five times those of men of Italian extraction” (Valliant 290).

To make the UCLA Study’s Decathlon of Flourishing even more discursively sound, its outcome of ‘included in Who’s Who in America’ should be replaced with the one that can be formulated as ‘the indications of the participant’s social advancement/self-perfection’. The logic behind this suggestion is as follows: the initial outcome is concerned with measuring the participants’ success in attaining the dominant social status.

This, in turn, reflects the outcome’s close affiliation with the discourse of Euro-centrism/Darwinism, based on the assumption that the qualitative dynamics within a particular society are always concerned with the never-ending struggle of everybody against everybody for the ‘room under the Sun’ (Nelson 493). However, as it was implied earlier, this assumption has been long ago proven conceptually fallacious – all due to its acute lack of systemic soundness.

The suggested outcome will assess the strength of the participants’ commitment to applying a continual effort towards becoming ‘better men’, on one hand, and evaluate their ability to derive an emotional pleasure (happiness) out of the process, on the other. The measurable variables, in this respect, can be concerned with the number of books that a particular participant manages to read throughout the set period, the number of professional degrees that he or she holds, and/or with the number of confirmed volunteer-activities, on this person’s part.

Even though that the mentioned suggestions (as to how the UCLA longitudinal study could be improved) are far from being considered exhaustive, there is nevertheless a good reason to believe that while keeping them in mind, the study’s commissioners will be able to increase the objective value of the would-be obtained data. This should come as the consequence of the fact that, due to having incorporated these suggestions as its integral part, the study’s methodological apparatus will be much more likely to resonate with the discourse of post-modernity – just as it was hypothesized at the very beginning of this paper.

Works Cited

Hilton, Matthew. “The Death of a Consumer Society.” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 18 (2008): 211-236. Print.

Ma, Sai. “Paternal Race/Ethnicity And Birth Outcomes.” American Journal Of Public Health 98.12 (2008): 2285-2292. Print.

Nelson, Richard. “Evolutionary Social Science and Universal Darwinism.” Journal of Evolutionary Economics 16.5 (2006): 491-510. Print.

Sandel, Michael. “Obama and Civic Idealism.” Democracy.16 (2010): 9-14. Print.

Uphoff, Norman and Anirudh Krishna. “Civil Society and Public Sector Institutions: More than a Zero-Sum Relationship.” Public Administration & Development 24.4 (2004): 357-372. Print.

Vaillant, George. Triumphs of Experience: The Men of the Harvard Grant Study, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012. Print.

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