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Redefining Success in AmericaA New Theory of Happiness and Human Development$

Michael Kaufman

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780226550015

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2019

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226550299.001.0001

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The Varieties of Experience

The Varieties of Experience

(p.28) Chapter 3 The Varieties of Experience
Redefining Success in America

Michael B. Kaufman

University of Chicago Press

Abstract and Keywords

Chapter 3 describes the positions along the spectrum of intrapsychic brightness and darkness and variation in longitudinal trajectories in the studied sample. Brief psychobiographies illustrate college and adult spectrums of this construct of well-being observed in clinical life history interviews; shifts in the sample’s presentation of affect from college to late midlife; and how significant change, a longitudinal trajectory exhibited by roughly one-third of the sample, differs from two other, closely related, trajectories—insignificant change and stability—which together account for roughly two-thirds of the sample. The importance of an individual’s relationship to his or her central strivings (to be defined later as life goals) is explained, helping to delineate the spectrum of intrapsychic brightness and darkness.

Keywords:   intrapsychic brightness and darkness, well-being, longitudinal, change, stability, trajectory, human development, affect, life goal, psychobiography

Hovanec’s and Martin’s lives illustrate a conceptual cornerstone in the study’s discovery about its participants’ lives, two ends of the sample’s spectrum of overall brightness and darkness. Their relative stability in their respective locations on this spectrum represents only one longitudinal pattern, however. A sizable contingent of participants migrate along this spectrum from college to late midlife, changing to brighter or darker central affective tendencies to varying degrees. To complete the picture, the sample as a whole changes, undergoing affect elaboration from college to late midlife. This chapter explains what that means. Figure 3.1 depicts the entire array of patterns in the lives of the study participants and identifies pattern exemplars.

A Middle Category of Participants: Mixed Affect

Participants who do not appear overall bright or overall dark in the central tendency of affect in their life histories instead reveal a strong presence of both positive and negative affect, neither of which represents a dominant affective experience. The study described the central tendency of affect displayed by them as mixed affect or mixed, falling in a middle category between the overall bright and overall dark.

As an adult Alan Caulder’s central tendency was mixed affect. His personal life shows a darker affective tendency and his career a brighter affective tendency, neither of which subsumes the other. Further, his hope in the possibility of a future relationship infuses the darker strand of his story with some offsetting positive affect. (p.29)

The Varieties of Experience

Figure 3.1. Spectrum of Brightness and Darkness and Individual-Level Change

Note: This figure displays the patterns and participants presented in this chapter and includes Martin and Hovanec for comparison. The spectrum of overall affect in individual participants’ lives appears in the top and bottom rectangles. (The college spectrum does not include overall brightness for reasons explained in the chapter.) Solid lines with arrows denote individual-level change longitudinally. Dashed lines with arrows denote relative stability longitudinally.

Exemplars illustrate patterns as follows:

  • - Caulder: the overall category of mixed brightness and darkness (presented as an adult only).

  • - Fisher and Costa: gradations of mixed brightness and darkness (in college and adulthood).

  • - Costa: longitudinal change to more darkness, contrasted with Fisher’s relative stability.

  • - Hoyt: significant longitudinal change to more brightness.

  • - Payne: affect elaboration (a form of relative stability) in the sample as a whole rather than individual-level change.

  • - Russo: the most common pattern of significant change.

Alan Caulder never married, although he had a series of lengthy relationships in which he noticed a pattern: the woman grew close to him and he pushed her away, at which point she would leave the relationship. Caulder came to realize that a deeper motive laid claim to his energies. He had a serious financial insecurity that he had to overcome before he could feel comfortable committing to a relationship.

Caulder got a graduate degree after college that prepared him to enter a relatively small company at the ground level. The company grew and was increasingly profitable, in no small part due to Caulder’s contribution. A senior manager recognized his potential and promoted him repeatedly, entrusting him eventually with a senior executive role. In the year before I met Caulder, his business acumen produced a remarkable gain for the company, and he was rewarded with a bonus in the tens of millions of dollars.

During the years when Caulder was devoted to his business career, he came (p.30) to see himself as belonging to a family in two regards. First, his success shepherding the business through challenging periods and to ever-improving performance ensured the financial well-being of its employees, whom he cared a great deal about, and who saw him as a sort of protector. When I met him, we went to lunch with several of his employees, who are also his friends. At the same time, Caulder grew closer to members of his family of origin. They regarded each other with a respect and fondness that Caulder as a younger adult had not imagined he might share with them. Caulder was explicit that he nurtured these relationships in the absence of creating a family of his own.

Caulder felt a sense of loss at not marrying and having a family, but he felt enormous pride in his accomplishments as a business executive and in caring for the people who work for him. Caulder looked to the future as a time when he might build on his newfound security and enter into a stable relationship with a woman. His health is good, and although he isn’t sure he will overcome his past patterns, he is instilled with motivation and hope that he might.

Caulder’s history shows that a participant’s stance toward his unrealized central strivings helps to identify his central affective tendency. (Life goals is the term used to refer to central strivings in the study’s assessment procedure.)1 This heuristic is particularly important in discerning mixed-affect participants from overall bright and overall dark participants. Mixed participants are actively engaged with their unrealized central strivings, whereas overall bright and overall dark participants seem not to be.

Caulder had realized his career aspirations but not his central strivings to marry and have children. If he had been resigned to failure in these unmet strivings, he would have been overall darker. If he had been content with how his family aspirations had turned out, he would have been overall brighter. Mixed-affect participants are neither resigned nor resolved in how their central life strivings have turned out. They are still trying to realize them.

By contrast, overall bright participants have resolved their central strivings, and overall dark participants are resigned to failure in them. Hovanec found overall peace in his children and in nature, which resolved the unmet strivings in other parts of his life. Martin was less engaged than Caulder with the deficiencies of his life; he was resigned and anguished and not actively trying to realize his strivings.

(p.31) Three Subgroups in Mixed-Affect Category

Mixed participants engage their unrealized central strivings with the conviction that their efforts matter, but they hold the view that the outcome of their efforts is unclear.

One subgroup of mixed participants is hopeful, believing they are likely to succeed in realizing their central strivings; they have a tendency toward brightness. (Caulder exemplifies a mixed participant tending bright.)2 A second subgroup is evenly divided between believing their efforts will be successful and believing they will be unsuccessful; they fall in the middle of the mixed category. And a third subgroup is doubtful, believing they are unlikely to succeed, although they are still trying; they are located at the dark end of the mixed category. These three stances toward unrealized life strivings thus delineate three positions within the mixed category of brightness and darkness: tending bright, evenly mixed, and tending dark.

Vincent Costa as a college participant illustrates an evenly mixed central affective tendency. He seems unsure which eventuality he believes is more likely to happen: that he will or will not realize his unmet central strivings. This sketch of him is followed by a sketch of Joseph Fisher, a college participant classified by the study as mixed affect tending dark. Drawing out the subtle differences between two overall mixed participants, these sketches also lay the basis for what later will be shown to be divergent longitudinal trajectories.

Costa and Fisher, like Hovanec and Martin and the rest of the college sample, show differences in brightness and darkness in the early era of the study against a common backdrop of the college environment and the transition to adulthood. The backdrop includes academic, intellectual, extracurricular, and social opportunities and demands and the expectation that one will forge meaningful direction toward a career and a future social and personal life. These concerns are shared by college participants despite differing parental relationships, family background, interests, and abilities. A participant’s central affective tendency is linked to how successful he feels himself to be in navigating a path. Costa’s mixed tendency, slightly brighter than Fisher’s, reflects his being equally hopeful and doubtful of his success, whereas Fisher seems inclined to be more doubtful.

Costa in College

Vincent Costa approached college with a decidedly mixed attitude toward the opportunity it offered. He came from a working-class family and was not sure (p.32) he wanted to enter the world that Harvard opened to him. At the same time, he sought to escape the suffocation and stagnation that he felt intellectually and socially in his family and ethnic community and to avoid a certain rut he knew would stifle his future as a working-class laborer. These opposing concerns permeated his college career. Early, he appeared to have decided to loosen his ties to his family and community, but later he seemed to retreat from his foray into the new world. He never fully gave up either position. His indeterminate attitude organized his college experience in every area of his engagement: academics, athletics, friendships, dating, and his plans for his career. As a college student, Costa falls into the group of mixed participants inclined to give equal weight to faith and doubt that they will surmount their challenges and realize their unmet central strivings.

Costa grew up in a tight-knit community in which his family was known and well respected. He and his friends played sports and palled around with other kids in the neighborhood. He would be the first one in his family to go to college. Costa knew he didn’t want to end up with a dead-end factory job supporting a family. He excelled academically and as an athlete in high school but was surprised when he got into Harvard. An adult in Costa’s community had contacts at Harvard and recommended him.

Costa found the intellectual conversations at Harvard unfamiliar and refreshing. He was used to discussing sports and politics with his friends back home. His freshman year Costa spent hours studying, training for sports teams, and avoiding getting sidetracked by “over-involvement” with other people and frivolous concerns. He spent time with teammates but didn’t drink or smoke and was resolutely determined to learn as much as possible and to take advantage of this opportunity.

But life at Harvard posed problems. Freshman year Costa got a sports injury that interfered with his practice. He found the academic work demanding. It took him longer to read and write, he estimated, than it took other students. Even though he was working extremely hard and long hours, he was unable to get Bs. Even when he was not injured, he was not performing athletically at his pre-Harvard levels. He knew he had the potential to do better. He was choking at Harvard.

Even with his scholarship, money was a problem. To save money, Costa lived with relatives in Boston rather than on campus. This made him somewhat of an outsider, as Harvard was overwhelmingly a residential college. Costa’s parents and relatives were supportive of his being at Harvard but uninvolved in his academic experiences and in decisions about his future.

Costa’s discipline and engagement freshman year receded some by his (p.33) sophomore year. He determined that he did not want to end up living in a Waspy suburb any more than he wanted to follow the prescribed course of life for young men from his hometown.

Junior year Costa continued to struggle to get respectable grades and carve out time for sports practice.

Costa realized that life after Harvard did not offer the prospect of being easier. Financially, graduate school was out of reach; it would be a long shot at best. Costa’s ideas about his future had germinated all four years but remained general by the time he graduated. He was interested in the arts but had no specific plans to pursue them. The one thing he was sure of was that he didn’t want to fall into a rut.

Costa wrote a thesis and graduated with honors, which softened his frustration over his academic performance at Harvard. Time pressure had been constant all four years. He had not had time to participate in extracurricular activities. Although he was active as an athlete all four years, he felt unable to perform to his full potential. He withdrew from one of his teams because he was given limited time to play.

Stimulated and broadened by his Harvard experience, Costa was also conflicted. Reflecting on his college years, he described himself as a loner and an outsider. He did not have any close friends at Harvard. He had not dated during college because he did not feel comfortable with girls in the Harvard world. He also had not dated girls back home because he did not want to tether his future to his home community. Costa still had strong ties to his home community and to his family but felt they had been weakened during college. He was reluctant to weaken them further. It was unclear whether Costa would shift his life trajectory after Harvard through a career or a stronger embrace of the social connections offered by this new world. Costa left Harvard with a decidedly mixed experience and a decidedly uncertain future.

Fisher in College

Joseph Fisher hoped college would allow him to clarify his scholarly interests and forge a career that would satisfy both himself and his parents, who wanted him to pursue a professional career that did not interest him. The pressure he felt from his parents led him to focus on academic achievement at the expense of extracurricular involvements and deeper social connections. He completed Harvard College early, feeling out of control of his life and mourning lost opportunities. Fisher was more doubtful than Costa that he would transcend the prospect of stagnation.3

(p.34) Fisher was near the top of his class in a competitive high school. Fisher’s parents had immigrated to the United States before he was born. They had long encouraged his scholastic achievement. They felt Harvard would be a good choice for him because it would prepare him for a successful career and allow him to profit intellectually. Fisher agreed.

Harvard assigned Fisher its highest ranking in its undisclosed formula predicting a student’s likely academic performance during college, its Predicted Rank List, weighing high school grades, test scores, and other evidence of scholarly promise. His intelligence and a scholarly ability gained the notice of his instructors immediately when he arrived at Harvard.

As a freshman Fisher declared his major and began completing required courses ahead of schedule. Fisher had been considering a practical career, but his scholarly interests and abilities indicated an academic direction.

Sophomore year, Fisher’s academic work claimed nearly all of his time. It was disappointing to him and his parents that his grades were lower than what he had achieved in high school, so he redoubled his efforts and regained his former high average as a sophomore. But this meant that Fisher had little time for much else, including dating.

As a sophomore Fisher considered a career in the academy but worried that college teaching might be a nonlucrative grind. He knew that his parents wanted him to enter an established profession, such as medicine. It would be practical and secure.

As a junior for a brief period Fisher seemed to resolve his career conflict by deciding to keep his intellectual interests an avocation and pursue a more secure career path. Fisher’s parents were pleased, but Fisher felt uncertain of how to proceed. He saw no way to gain experience and confirm his interest in a field before having to apply to graduate school.

By senior year Fisher was in a position to graduate early, which brought on a painful sense of loss. Fisher had begun to experience a social renewal. He had time to socialize for the first time since freshman year, as he was now working less hard. He met new people in his house, made new friends, and enjoyed conversations. Fisher also felt that he had not yet had a chance to date, and he was unsure how, after Harvard, he would overcome his inexperience and his sense of isolation; he did not understand why his parents were not more concerned. Fisher wished he could stay at Harvard for the full year but felt pressure from them to press on. He felt they seemed to notice only his academic achievements and not the other aspirations and hopes he had for his life.

(p.35) Fisher credited Harvard with expanding him intellectually and familiarizing him with important thinkers. He was also pleased by his academic accomplishments. But Fisher did not feel these accomplishments translated into a greater sense of career opportunity.

Fisher left Harvard fighting to claim the direction of his career, to engage interests and activities beyond academic work, and to gain traction socially. He felt himself fighting an uphill battle and doubted he would be successful. He exhibited a central tendency of overall mixed affect tending toward darkness.

Change in Intrapsychic Brightness and Darkness over Time

The mixed-affect category and its subgroups fill out the sample’s spectrum of brightness and darkness in each era of the study, which allows for detection of more granular change in longitudinal trajectories. Costa and Fisher illustrate individual change in brightness and darkness—divergent trajectories—during adulthood. Their adult sketches help to define change.

The stagnation that both Costa and Fisher feared in college asserted itself in their adult lives. But Costa changed to greater darkness, whereas Fisher maintained his mixed-tending-dark central tendency. Family and career strivings are the central concerns of the adult sample. Fisher retained a sense of efficacy in his career, albeit not as strongly as he would have liked, whereas Costa felt thwarted in his career efforts. Fisher was also still trying to achieve greater closeness with others, whereas Costa was defeated and resigned. Despite Costa’s brighter presentation in college, Costa became darker than Fisher in late midlife, exhibiting overall darkness and a sense of hopelessness.

Adult Costa

After college Costa held a series of jobs in the arts and in service fields. He relocated several times. Twice he worked for an arts organization, which he found a source of great enjoyment. Costa hoped to gain a foothold as an artist but was not successful.

Some years after college Costa met Susan, a woman he was strongly attracted to. He changed jobs to a new field to work closer to her, hoping to form a relationship. She did not reciprocate, and after several years, he realized all chances had been exhausted. It was a painful period of rejection in his life, which led him to capture the experience in multiple works of art.

(p.36) Costa took his portfolio of work and relocated across the country to try to sell it. He worked at jobs during these years, but his efforts to sell his art were unsuccessful. Eventually he reached a dead end and decided to move back to his home community.

Costa had been living with relatives for the past fifteen years. He was commuting to a job doing clerical work that was steady employment and steady pay. But it was not nearly as enjoyable as the job he had at the arts organization; that turned out to be the best job he ever had. Costa had pursued other women over the years since Susan, but none of them measured up to her. Now he spent much of his free time alone, reading and doing other solitary activities. He saw his siblings regularly throughout the year, and he provided care to an aging relative. Saturday was the most social day of his week. He spent it at a bar talking with old friends.

Costa had come to see his life as a collection of failed possibilities and his best days behind him. He felt he had gotten into Harvard under the radar without the proper credentials; he conjectured that he had been accepted to round out the class as a token disadvantaged student. The honors his reader gave him on his thesis and the overtime hours he recently received from his boss were similar gestures of compassion. When I asked him how he hoped to be remembered, he refused the question. “Never crossed my mind,” he said. He protested the class-based presumptions of my question asking him to focus on himself and his legacy. They weren’t how he thought about the world. Costa had not saved up enough to retire and did not think he would be able to do so. He planned to work until he died, he said. Costa had become overall dark in his central affective tendency and was resigned to failure.

Adult Fisher

Joseph Fisher went to graduate school after Harvard and entered the academy. He became a well-respected scholar and teacher. His parents were distraught by his career choice.

Fisher’s experience of his career had an overall mixed quality. He was one of the most productive faculty members in his institution and he felt well liked and well respected by colleagues and students. He felt intellectually and socially enriched. He had made some friends among colleagues and students. He took pride in the success that some former students had realized in their careers. Fisher also appreciated his freedom to read, think, and write broadly.

On the other hand, Fisher felt that he had not realized his potential to work at a more prestigious institution. The institution that had been his first choice (p.37) had not offered him a position. He also felt that his reputation and his scholarly output placed him in the second, rather than the top, tier of scholars in his field. His field was narrow, and he did not feel motivated to write and publish within its restricted focus. He felt that he would have been happier working in another field more aligned with his interests. He saw his career as having stagnated over many years.

Fisher felt that he had chosen his career prematurely. His scholarly abilities had allowed him to enter academia against the wishes of his parents, but he did not realize the demands and expectations that would ensue. In response to the question, “What advice would you give to a Harvard senior on the life ahead of him?” Fisher cautioned against making premature decisions about a life direction. “The danger of Harvard is that a lot of people have precocity. They see themselves as full-fledged adults who know everything they’ll ever know in their lives.”

Fisher’s career was the most active part of his life, and its mixed quality kept him from being overall dark. He felt efficacy in his career that he did not feel in his personal life.

Fisher had not been in a romantic relationship during his life, although he had tried on numerous occasions as an adult. He had discussed with his therapist the possibility that he might be acting in ways not serving his interests. Fisher felt his life was the poorer for not having married or having a family.

Fisher felt that his parents had been negative influences on his life. He thought his mother would now view his life as inadequate because he had not married and was not more successful as an academic, whereas his father would be disinterested in him. The negative quality of Fisher’s father, as he described him, took on a more barren tone than it had in college.

Fisher seemed to feel a hidden hand thwarting his conscious desires. He wanted to be closer to others and to address the feeling of “unhappiness” that he experienced, but he was not sure how. He had begun to consider where he might move during retirement but did not feel ready to finalize his career or advance into another phase of life. He was still trying to figure out who he wanted to be when he grew up, he said. Fisher had not realized the possibilities for his life that he had hoped. He was still trying, but he seemed doubtful that his efforts would bring about change. Fisher had become mixed, tending dark, in his central affective tendency.

Costa and Fisher exemplify the concepts of change and stability. Costa in college seemed more open to his life turning out favorably, but following a series of setbacks in adulthood, he retreated to a more self-protective holding pattern (p.38) and felt his life no longer held promise. Fisher, by comparison, remained engaged with his unmet strivings in adulthood and as doubtful (perhaps more so) as in college that he would realize them. The winds of time exerted great effect on both men, but Costa seemed to lose more ground in the face of them.4

The Study’s Concept of Change

Systemic Change

Costa’s change is significant because it reflects a long-term shift in the balance of affect visible in his life history. It is not the product of short-term or periodic variation in affect and mood, the ups and downs we all experience in the course of our lives. Intrapsychic brightness and darkness is a construct capturing the central tendency at a global level of many moving parts. It is akin to average temperatures, which may be a measure of seasonal variations in the weather or of more lasting changes in climate. In the summer some days are hotter than others, but changes in the average temperature over the long term reflect systemic change. The evidence gathered by this study shows clear patterns of systemic change over time among some participants.

Individual versus Sample Change

Systemic change in an individual appears most clearly when viewing the individual against the whole sample, which exhibits another kind of change from college to late midlife, which I call affect elaboration. Costa appears to change because he deviates from the patterns of the group, while the group itself is changing.

The adult sample shows more saturated affective tendencies in their life histories than the college sample. The ends of the spectrum of brightness and darkness were further apart in adulthood than in college—that is, study adults on the dark end of the spectrum were darker than college students on the dark end of the spectrum. Adult participants on the bright end of the spectrum were brighter than college participants at the bright end of the spectrum. The sample’s affective range seemed to expand from college to late midlife.

Costa shows no clear overriding tendency in college toward darkness or brightness; that is why he was classified by the study as evenly mixed. Yet he crosses into a decidedly dark place in adulthood, changing more than overall dark college participants or mixed-tending-dark college participants, such as Fisher.

(p.39) A metaphor helps to illustrate this expansion of the sample’s affective range over time. Imagine paddling a raft on a river. Even as you might pull your oar in one direction or another striving to move the raft, the current carries you downstream, similarly to how inertia is at work in the central tendency of affect among participants over the life course. At one point the river forks into multiple braids. On the far right—let’s say a subjectively overall bright braid—the water pulls you in that direction more and more if you are already on the right side of the river. On the far left—an overall dark braid—the same thing happens if you are traveling on the left side of the river. You will most likely not be drawn into the far left braid of the river if you are on the far right side of the river and vice versa.

Hovanec and Martin travel the braids of the river closest to the banks, following the overall bright or overall dark subjective trajectory over the entire course of the study. Their travel in the outermost currents brackets the trajectories in between taken by other participants and helps show what is happening with the whole sample.

To continue the metaphor, if you are in the middle of the river, the forces at work are more complex and involve competing parts of the current. The forces to go to the far right and far left are working on your raft at the same time. Participants in the middle range of the river are carried by the balance of these two forces acting upon them. They are subject to this mix of forces unless they change, like Vincent Costa. Costa defies the inertia. For the most part, mixed participants don’t slide into the extreme braids of the river. Opposing forces hold them in the middle of the river, such as Joseph Fisher, who is relatively stable as a mixed-tending-dark participant across time.

The affective river gains a wider footprint as it cuts through the territory of adult life. From the college to the adult era the river splays out into a broader and more vivid range of affective tendencies. The braids in adulthood draw a large portion of participants out onto a relative floodplain. Bright participants like Hovanec follow the channels that lead far to the right, onto braids of even greater brightness. Dark participants like Martin follow the channels that lead far to the left, onto braids of even greater darkness. Even mixed participants show themselves to be more vividly mixed in adulthood than in college.

The affect elaboration of the sample from college to late midlife seems principally to reflect a change in the sample’s perspective on their lives and greater life experience. As young men launching into adulthood, college participants experienced great promise in their futures but also great uncertainty. They had not yet lived the large portion of their lives that they would by the time of late midlife. Further, they had not acquired the experience with themselves (p.40) and their lives that would later contribute to a more vivid experience of the lives they had led.

Darker participants in college perceived a longer horizon and more opportunity for redemption from the problems overwhelming them than darker adults were able to conjure. Martin’s opportunities for realizing career and relational aspirations seem more possible in the long future viewed during college. Similarly, college participants on the brighter end of the spectrum, such as Hovanec, although hopeful about their prospects, entered adulthood with uncertainty and anxiety about how their lives would play out. This tempered enthusiasms. They still had the large share of their lives left to realize their central life strivings; certainty about their eventual success was not clear. These influences on participant perspective placed floor and ceiling effects on brightness and darkness in college.

Further, from their younger vantage point participants were not as aware of themselves and were not inclined to reflect on their lives as a whole, as they later would be in what Erikson (1950, 1982) describes as a phase of adult development, “ego integrity versus despair,” entailing reminiscence (Butler, 1963). Even if reminiscence had been a perspective available to college participants, it would not have allowed taking stock of an as-yet unlived future. By contrast, it was not only possible but normative for participants as late-midlife adults to take stock. In this phase individuals size up the merit of the lives that they have lived and reach a more positive or more negative resolution. Participants well past the halfway point in the expected course of life had acquired considerable experience, contributing to more elaborate affect in both experience and display.5

Hovanec and Martin: Defining Significant Change

This account of affect elaboration allows a more accurate description of the lives of Hovanec and Martin than that provided in chapter 2. I suggested that Hovanec was overall bright in college, but in fact he was classified in college by the study as a mixed-tending-bright participant. This was the brightest affective classification observed among any college participant. Hovanec exemplifies affect elaboration in the sample. He followed the brightest channel in the metaphorical life course river. In adulthood he was classified as overall bright, a classification that, although it had not appeared among the college sample, did appear among the adult sample.

Similarly, although Martin was classified by the study as overall dark in college—the outermost dark classification observed among the college (p.41) sample—the degree of his central tendency of darkness seemed greater in adulthood. The most extreme form of overall darkness did not appear in the sample until adulthood and required a further degree of classification.

Participants who undergo significant change, as Costa did, do not follow the currents that pull them along in the metaphorical river. They are not exemplars of the sample’s affect elaboration over time. Psychological and behavioral factors—which I discuss later in the book—move in tandem, taking participants across the center of the current, and from there they are carried along by a new balance of forces. Some move into the extremes of the river but some simply move far enough from where they started so that they stand in a decidedly new position in the current.6 This kind of shift has major implications for how a participant feels about himself and his life. These are the participants whom I refer to in the remainder of this book when I speak of change and changers.7

Change versus Affect Elaboration

While some participants change to greater darkness, others change to greater brightness. To fill out the patterns in the sample, I now present a psychobiographical sketch of such a positive changer, Lawrence Hoyt, and contrast him with Robert Payne, who follows a brighter channel of the river from college to late midlife. As adults both Hoyt and Payne end up on brighter braids of the current, but they get there from different starting points.

College Hoyt

Hoyt was not the first one in his extended family to go to Harvard but only when his grades improved at boarding school did he think Harvard might be within reach. Hoyt’s father was pleased when he got in and decided to go.

Hoyt had lost his mother some years earlier. Hoyt’s father had had an accomplished professional career and had often been traveling when Hoyt was growing up. Hoyt and his siblings had caregivers after their mother died, but Hoyt missed his mother. She was a beloved figure.

Hoyt’s emotion in talking about his mother exposed by contrast the muted emotion he conveyed at other times in his college interviews. One interviewer noted that Hoyt seemed withdrawn in general. Throughout his Harvard career Hoyt would have difficulty forming lasting connections with others.

When he first arrived at Harvard, Hoyt enjoyed meeting people from backgrounds different from his own but soon found he had little time to explore. (p.42) His classes were too demanding. Time management was a central concern (as it was for most other participants, as indicated in the sketches of Hovanec, Costa, and Fisher).

By sophomore year Hoyt was concerned that his grades were not adequate. He felt he was not using his time well, as he spent considerable time in two extracurricular activities (one more artistic, the other more social) and other involvements. Hoyt’s father advised him to pursue extracurricular activities to gain useful skills for a professional career like the one his father had. But Hoyt was considering careers in public service, education, and other areas. Extracurricular involvements diverted time from studying.

Hoyt’s junior year started well. He enjoyed his roommates and had begun dating someone he liked. He told his interviewer he had fallen in love, an experience he had not known before. Hoyt felt his roommates and girlfriend respected him.

But Hoyt’s positive start to junior year did not continue. His relationship with his girlfriend cooled. He found himself overcommitted extracurricularly, which left no time for other things. His grades suffered. He had little in common with others in his main extracurricular involvement and felt none were his friends. Hoyt became unsettled about his future, because he equated his immediate difficulty managing his life at Harvard with his being unable to forge a satisfying future career. He was feeling the pressure of his father’s expectations.

When Hoyt came back to college senior year he was less on edge. He had decided to apply to graduate school and now saw his extracurricular experiences as helpful. But this reprieve dissipated. Hoyt was disappointed by the grade his thesis received, although he felt intellectually enriched by having written it. He regretted that his academics had suffered at Harvard because he had diverted too much time to extracurricular involvements. Hoyt experienced conflict with roommates. And he felt that he lacked definite goals for his future. He had come to decide that he would enter his father’s professional field but hoped it would not be permanent. He did not want it to become a “trap.”

As a freshman Hoyt, when asked, said he could form no picture of a future with a family. He now said he planned to push back marriage until he was thirty-five and settled in other areas.

Early in his junior year Hoyt experienced more promising connections with his girlfriend and roommates but they did not last. Hoyt left Harvard without close relationships or confidence in his ability to form them. He seemed only dimly to perceive that he might transcend his social disconnection and the life that had been imagined for him. Hoyt left Harvard carried along by forces to which he seemed resigned.

(p.43) Adult Hoyt

Hoyt worked in his father’s professional field for many years after graduating from Harvard. He also got a graduate degree. But Hoyt felt unfulfilled and unsuccessful. Further, he dated regularly but he kept distance on occasions when the woman expressed an interest in a relationship. Hoyt recalled this as an unhappy time in his life. He felt a general distance from people.

The pattern broke when a relative died, a loss that deeply impacted him. Although Hoyt’s life proceeded outwardly as before, he came to feel that he was spinning his wheels and not doing what he wanted with his life.

A few years later Hoyt undertook a major reorientation. He changed his work to a service role that was more personally fulfilling and that he felt made a more valuable contribution to others. He began receiving positive feedback from those he was helping.

Part of what compelled Hoyt to make a change in his career is that he sensed a change would provide stability for having a family. He found a therapist helpful in forging a new direction. Hoyt married and had children. He was an active parent.

The marriage did not last, and Hoyt became even more active as a parent, scaling back his work commitments. Hoyt recognized that his children needed his help and that his efforts were having a positive impact on them and on his relationship with them. Eventually Hoyt met another woman with whom he formed a strong, long-term relationship and who had a knack for parenting. He felt deeply gratified by his family life.

Hoyt felt that superficial relationships had given way to deeper connections than he experienced when he was younger. The closeness he felt with others was incongruous with the professional life he had pursued when younger. Hoyt enjoyed his work and knew he was making a contribution. Hoyt felt that he had become the father to his children that his father had never been to him. Hoyt realized that his father, who had passed away some years earlier, would not have related to his current life. Hoyt had traveled a great distance emotionally. Having started out overall dark in college, he had become one of the brightest participants in the sample.

Hoyt Compared with Payne

Lawrence Hoyt came to his overall brightness by way of significant change, whereas Robert Payne reached an even brighter position in the life course river by way of affect elaboration. Hoyt struggled with the legacy of an unsuccessful (p.44) first marriage and its effect on his children, and with problems even earlier, in the family that introduced him to the world. Payne did not.

The contrast between Payne’s and Hoyt’s trajectories is more striking in light of common aspects of their family backgrounds, private secondary educations, and careers. Payne grew up in privileged circumstances in an established family and went to a private boarding school, as did Hoyt. He felt a calling to serve and entered an occupation serving others similar to the one that Hoyt eventually moved into. (Payne had to work to provide for himself and his family, in contrast with Hoyt.)

Despite these common characteristics, Payne’s trajectory began differently from Hoyt’s. He came to Harvard with a positive start to his life. His parents were alive, his family was intact, and he felt supported by his parents and both sets of grandparents. He showed a solid foundation of earlier well-being across the board in other ways as well—in sibling relationships, friendships, most school and community experiences, and in his religious background. These were all infused with positive affect.

Consequently, as Payne negotiated the demands of college and the clarification of his future life direction, he seemed better endowed with emotional resources than Hoyt. This point of contrast with Hoyt is especially highlighted by Payne’s situation upon graduation from Harvard. He had no specific direction or even general plan for his future education or career. Payne had explored career possibilities during college but by the time he graduated, he determined that his earlier ideas would not suit him. Rather than being despondent or demoralized, he accepted the situation as a reasonable development. He felt some anxiety about graduating without clarity or a plan, but he believed that he had experimented profitably and would do so with other possibilities. He expected to work out his career direction satisfactorily. He did not know the specifics yet, but he did not need to.

Payne also dated during college, formed friendships, participated in extracurricular activities, and applied himself in his course work. He did not personalize setbacks in these areas any more than he did in his career exploration.

As he left college, in contrast with Hoyt, he was neither resigned nor fighting an uphill battle against social disconnection and a future predetermined for him. Payne explored career options for several years after college, earned an advanced degree, married, and fathered children. He felt successful and satisfied in his career. He felt that he made a meaningful contribution to those he served, that he was well respected by his colleagues and his community, and that his work was intellectually and spiritually enriching. For a time Payne’s (p.45) wife needed to relocate for her career, and Payne took leave to support her and their family life.

By the time of late midlife Payne glowed in nearly every realm of his life. His relationship with his wife was a profound connection. His young adult children struggled with forming careers and relationships but he was proud of their ethical compass and their character and felt that he had parented them well. He wished he had made more money, but he determined it was a worthwhile tradeoff to have been enriched by his work rather than depleted by it.

Payne’s adult life was not all a cakewalk. He had a general parental concern about his (now-grown) children’s futures. Payne struggled with an extended period of depression, and his wife struggled with a different illness. And, most significantly, he had lost a close relative, who died unexpectedly.

Payne’s affect about his life was not as bright or glowing when he left Harvard as it was in late midlife; when he left Harvard, his life consisted of untapped possibilities carrying uncertainty about the future. Further, the life experiences that he would acquire would vividly fill in for him the picture of his life. Still, despite the more muted tone, in college Payne’s central affective tendency was mixed bright and it seemed to point him to the destination of overall brightness that he eventually reached. Payne did not cross the center of the current of the life course river. He followed a channel of the current that splayed out and became brighter in adulthood.

Payne’s path carried him to the furthest reaches of the sample’s brightness. Hoyt came to within a stone’s throw of him, also in the further reaches of the sample’s brightness, but he began nearly the entire width of the river away.

Modest Significant Change toward More Brightness

A brief sketch of Louis Russo illustrates the most common pattern of significant change in the sample: significant change in modest degree and positive direction. Russo’s change is less dramatic than Hoyt’s but shares the same direction, positive change. Russo’s change both is smaller in degree than Costa’s and moves in the opposite direction. (The frequencies of the sample’s trajectories are displayed at the end of this chapter.) Russo went from a darker mixed tendency in college to a brighter mixed tendency in late midlife, owing to emotional gains he made through work and family life.

Russo, like Costa, grew up in working-class circumstances. He made it to Harvard on the basis of academic merit alone without the benefit of an advocate (p.46) with connections to Harvard, as Costa had. He knew in college that he wanted to enter the academy and, like Costa, he experienced deep ambivalence about the implications of upward mobility. He did not want to lose his connection with his family and community. Also like Costa, his background deprived him of knowledge of and access to graduate education and career opportunities available to most classmates. Russo focused on academics during college but was unable to apply himself fully. He was frustrated by his lack of discipline. His grades were mostly Bs with few As and occasional Cs. He left college uncertain about pursuing his chosen career and doubting that he could do so. He seemed less poised than Costa to find his way.

By late midlife Russo had overcome his reticence and lack of resolve. He held a senior appointment at a well-respected academic institution and enjoyed a relatively satisfying family life as husband and father. However, he had not reached an overall bright position on the life course river.

Russo suffered years of relative career stagnation on the way to his current position. At one point, frustrated by his lack of advancement, he left a stable job in a gamble for another one of lesser status in the hope that it would lead to a desirable appointment. The gamble paid off but not as Russo had anticipated it would. He was grateful that it had worked out but the capriciousness of his career trajectory left him deeply unsettled.

Russo discovered a fuller life with his wife and children than he imagined; he was grateful to his wife for helping him overcome his resistance to having children and teaching him to parent. But things had not always been easy with her. She had health problems, and they had faced parenting challenges. Russo and his wife obtained professional help to deal with these difficulties.

Finally, even though Russo had acted decisively to advance his career and class standing, he was still coming to terms with the distance his success placed between him and his community of origin. He felt a deep sense of loss and longing for what he had left behind.

Russo had not become overall intrapsychically bright, although not far away, and he was significantly brighter than he appeared in college.

Insignificant Change

In contrast with Costa, Hoyt, and Russo, for some participants individual change is insignificant. The study’s interview assessment procedure, presented in the next chapter, provides further insight into how participants were classified. There is no meaningful difference in the pattern across time, or in the forces at work, for the participants with insignificant change and the (p.47)

The Varieties of Experience

Figure 3.2. Longitudinal Trajectories of Brightness and Darkness

Note: The figure displays frequencies of three kinds of trajectories of intrapsychic brightness and darkness from college to late midlife observed in the interview sample. Insignificant change, although presented as distinct to represent the full picture of observed longitudinal patterns, closely resembles relative stability and the forces that explain it. Subsequent chapters account for the two combined trajectories in a single model of stability and significant change in a second model.

participants who follow the same current of the river across the two eras of the study. Still, I identify them separately for completeness of presentation. What distinguishes the former group from participants who follow the same braid of the river longitudinally is that their affect balance moves against the current (although modestly) rather than staying the same or splaying out. This movement could potentially be explained by error in the study’s observation method and short-term vagaries influencing the participant’s presentation at the time of observation. The pattern, therefore, may not be one of change at all. It seems to have more in common with relatively stable participants than with participants who change significantly. It is for these reasons I regard participants in both trajectories as relatively stable and account for their pattern in chapters 5 and 6 in a single model of stability.

Distributions of Longitudinal Trajectories

The histogram in figure 3.2 shows the frequency of the types of longitudinal trajectories of brightness and darkness in the sample delineated in this chapter. (p.48) Participants are positioned along a spectrum of brightness and darkness, and they follow a variety of trajectories down the life course river. After showing how the study systematically captured their happiness across eras of the study, I return to these men’s lives as I take up the question of what explains these longitudinal trajectories. (Appendix 1 summarizes the lives explored in depth in this book and can be used as a quick reference.)


(1.) Life goals are central strivings that encompass a participant’s efforts across multiple areas or domains of his life, such as work and marriage. They show where a participant’s attention and energies have been devoted in his life. They also serve as his personal standards for evaluating how things have turned out.

(2.) Two of the three members of the study team who assessed Caulder’s adult history reached this conclusion, whereas one saw him as less hopeful. I wrote the sketch of Caulder to reflect the perspective of the two observers, to illustrate the concept, but in the study’s official assessment, the three observers’ perspectives were “averaged.” I explain the use of averaging in the next chapter when presenting the study’s numeric assessment procedure.

(3.) Serving a secondary purpose, Fisher’s example adds cultural and socioeconomic variety to the picture of the sample presented in this book. Despite dramatically different backgrounds, Fisher and Costa in college show common themes linked to the study’s central construct, intrapsychic brightness and darkness, further illustrating the construct’s relevance to the varied lives. Online appendix 3 explains how I selected exemplars and used psychobiographical method to represent the sample.

(4.) There is reason to attribute a large share of Costa’s difficulties to his class background. He had fewer resources than Fisher to help him navigate the educational, social, and career landscape opened to him by going to Harvard. Being admitted to Harvard may have been a burden rather than an opportunity, because it complicated his choices and placed him between two worlds. But while this comparison between Costa and Fisher may hold true, many other participants (such as Louis Russo, who appears later in this chapter) from similarly disadvantaged backgrounds negotiated the transition into adult life and the traverse across the adult years more successfully than Costa. Costa’s control over and individual influence on the trajectory of his life should not be missed, any more than it should be overweighted. Whatever the role of class background versus individual agency, Costa’s example illustrates marked change in a participant’s central affective tendency over time.

(p.252) (5.) I also considered two other possible factors in affect elaboration from college to late midlife: artifacts of the study’s data collection circumstances across the two eras of the study, and the strong effect of the Harvard College environment.

First, artifacts of data collection circumstances. As an interviewer, I was a generation younger than adult participants and had less life experience and was less established in a career. In anthropological terms, I was studying “up,” which gave me greater permission to ask challenging questions and be less cautious in interviewing than did Stanley King’s positioning relative to participants. An adult, parent, and Harvard faculty member studying students, he related to a more vulnerable population. His caution and care for their well-being came through clearly in the interviews and may explain a less probing style. Other college-era interviewers were similarly positioned relative to participants.

Further, Stanley King and the college interviewers were not as focused on observing affective tendencies as I was in interviewing adult participants, even if participants might have been as emotionally varied in college. The college study focused on aspects of personality, only one aspect of which included affect and mood (King, 1973) although it produced useful archival material about affective tendencies that I later used in my follow-up.

Emotional display in face-to-face encounter provides much information that cannot be captured in a written record. College interviewees may have appeared more affectively vivid were the study team to have observed them in person side by side with their adult selves rather than in archival data.

Second, how did the environment of Harvard College influence the affect display of the college participants? Many participants experienced their Harvard years as an exceptional time in life. Chapter 8 describes features of a demanding culture emphasizing individualism and achievement. A strong situation in the sociological sense, the Harvard environment may have washed out more vivid displays of individual differences among the sample’s affective tendencies, although as illustrated already in case histories, differences in these tendencies were still readily recognizable.

After weighing these considerations, I concluded that the sample’s affect elaboration in adulthood was primarily the result of age and vantage point on the life course, as described by Erikson (1950, 1982).

(6.) Costa technically does not move “across” the center of the current, since he starts in college at the center of the current. But he does not begin in the darker channel of the current, and he moves a significant distance from where he started into this channel and displays a new balance of affect.

(7.) The study’s concept of change differs from normative developmental changes described by the lifecycle theories of Erikson (1950), Vaillant (1977), and Levinson (1978). It also differs from generation-cohort changes in social and historical conditions of the life course observed by Elder (Giele & Elder, 1998; Elder et al., 2003). These other theories profile changing conditions that serve as a backdrop against which individual trajectories of brightness and darkness appear as change or stability in this study, as will be discussed further in chapter 10.