Heaven on My Mind: Using the Harvard Grant Study of Adult Development to Explore the Value of the Prospection of Life after Death

George E. Vaillant
Harvard Medical School, Boston, USA

Series: Religion and Spirituality
BISAC: REL000000

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Heaven fascinates us, yet we lack any empirical information about it. Why, despite our multiple faith traditions, does Heaven have such positive connotations for us all? Why, despite no tangible evidence, should autobiographies by authors who claim to have visited Heaven, usually through near death experiences, attract literally millions of readers? Why does virtually everyone, even non-believers, agree with the old adage that “There is nothing better than Heaven”? Since a picture is worth a thousand words, Heaven on My Mind will focus more on true stories than on explication. In this book, the author shows how the prospectively gathered spiritual and religious biographies of the men in Harvard’s legendary Study of Adult Development (The Grant Study) cast light upon the significance of faith and hope for love in Heaven in real lives.

The author intends to show that putting the newly discovered concept of prospection together with our ancient faith in heaven allows us to understand the value of ruminating on an afterlife. Indeed, the life histories of the 184 men followed for their life-time in Harvard’s path-breaking Study of Adult Development faith in Heaven is significantly associated with leading more successful lives.

Due to recent advances in neurophysiology, the study of prospection reflects a paradigm shift in our understanding of the human mind. Prospection reflects the fact that the brain combines incoming information with stored information to build “mental representations” of the external world.

Dr. Seligman and his colleagues’ book, Homo Prospectus (2016) revolutionizes modern psychology and supplants the past oriented psychology of Skinner, Freud and cognitive psychology with future oriented psychology suggested by this recently discovered neuroscience. It is prospection that allows us “to fight the next war, not the last war.”

The author received a Templeton grant to study prospection by reanalyzing The Harvard Study of Adult Development (The Grant Study). Since 1939, the landmark Grant Study has conducted a prospective – in contrast to retrospective – lifelong social and medical study of a cohort of healthy college males.

In order to document whether religious affiliation increased over time, beginning at age 47, every 6 years the author, as the longtime Grant Study Director, has asked the men about the intensity of their religious affiliation and the degree of their belief in life after death. Heaven on My Mind uses these spiritual and religious biographies to illuminate the significance of faith and hope for Heaven. In short, Heaven on My Mind will reflect the “natural history” of the men’s religious affiliation and their prospection of, and expectations about Heaven over the course of their lives.

For 40 years, readers have found such human transformations in the longitudinal studies of the author’s books fascinating. The author believes Heaven on my Mind will be yet another major chapter in the research toward fully understanding the Study of Adult Development. (Imprint: Nova)

Acknowledgements

Introduction

Chapter 1. Why Should Heaven Interest Us?

Chapter 2. Why Should Prospection Interest Us?

Chapter 3. Prospection and Belief in Life After Death

Chapter 4. Does Humanism Keep Heaven From Our Minds?

Chapter 5. Why Should Faith Interest Us?

Chapter 6. Hope, Prospection and Imagination

Chapter 7. But Science Must Interest Us Too

Chapter 8. Why Do Some Of Us Become More Religious with Age?

Chapter 9. Why Does Loss of Faith Happen?

Chapter 10. Alcoholism Cripples Our Capacity for Prospection

Chapter 11. Is Our Capacity for Spirituality Evolving?

Appendix

References

Index

“The first, and only, serious study of religious development across the entire lifespan. This book sets a new benchmark for the science of spirituality.” - Dr. Martin E.P. Seligman, Zellerbach Family Professor of Psychology, Director, Positive Psychology Center, University of Pennsylvania

“What a fabulous use of the world renowned Harvard Study of Adult Development, an investigation begun in 1939. For many years and until recently, this project was directed by one of the premier psychiatric and humanistic researchers of his generation, Dr. George Eman Vaillant, MD, of Harvard Medical School. Over the last two decades, Dr. Vaillant has been a leader in the positive psychology movement, and now draws on the Harvard Study of Adult Development to examine the extent to which belief in an afterlife influences well-being and survival over the course of a lifetime. This is the one and only prospective longitudinal study ever conducted on this topic. Every six years, for the better part of four decades, Dr. Vaillant has asked subjects about the degree and depth of their belief in life after death. Heaven on My Mind is a brilliant, deep, and revealing study that reveals scientifically for the first time that there is more value in keeping heaven on one’s mind than most researchers people realize, and indeed this may be why it remains important in many lives. A truly creative and even magnificent book, everyone interested in “Prospection” as a state of mind should read this, as should anyone interested in spirituality and well-being.” - Stephen G. Post, PhD., Director, Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics, Stony Brook University School of Medicine, President, Institute for Research on Unlimited Love

“This heartfelt book weaves together moving stories with data from a groundbreaking longitudinal study that tracked Harvard graduates over the course of their entire lives. Intimate interviews combined with mental and physical health records over decades of time illuminate how our lives are profoundly influenced by the nature of our relationships in the present and our sense of hope for the future. Dr. George Vailllant is a wise and eloquent guide to living well at any age.” - David Bryce Yaden, Research Fellow, Department of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania

“Drawing on the Harvard Study of Adult Development (“The Grant Study”), lead researcher George E. Vaillant, M.D., examines the extent to which a belief in the afterlife influences well-being and survival over the course of a lifetime. Using spiritual and religious biographies of the men in The Grant Study, Heaven on My Mind shows us the significance that faith and hope for heaven have on our everyday life and well-being. The book ultimately reveals that there’s more value in keeping heaven on your mind than you might realize.” - Sandra Bilbray is a contributing editor for Live Happy, and the CEO and owner of themediaconcierge.net

Click here to read the book review by - Peggy Kern, PhD., Centre for Positive Psychology, Melbourne Graduate School of Education, The University of Melbourne, Australia

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