In 1938, more than 200 Harvard students (all men at the time) joined a research study that lasted for the next 75 years. The point of the project was to analyze how the things in our lives—work, family, friends, money, possessions—influence how happy and successful we think we are. Scientists from the university followed these men throughout their lives, checking back in with them every few years to see what they were doing, how successful and happy they felt, and what the causes of this happiness and success were (or weren’t). At the end of the project, lead researcher George Valliant was asked what he learned from the study’s decades-worth of data. It seemed, initially, that his answer might be some sort of complex scientific formula that could guide our pursuit of success and happiness moving forward. Instead, Dr. Valliant said that his research could be boiled down into a very simple phrase: “Happiness is love. Full stop.” When people were surrounded by positive relationships with others and a lot of love, they tended to feel successful and happy, regardless of how other things were going in their lives.
I think of Dr. Valliant’s work often as I travel around the country working with our Up2Us coaches. When I share his results with them, they tend to smile knowingly. The idea that love can move us forward and help make great things happen is the reason why our coaches get up every day and go to work. They are positive adults building strong, lasting relationships with young people—connections that may be constructed initially on the power of sport and physical activity, but inevitably expand to include so much more.
The start of the New Year brings many exciting things, not the least of which is National Mentoring Month, which we celebrate alongside our colleagues in the youth-serving world every January. This year, as I was reading new data from MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership, I learned that 1 in 3 young people will move into their adult years without ever having a positive connection with a mentor—that is millions of young people without a teacher, coach, or other adult to help them work through the success and challenges of growing up.
As we head into 2015, we at Up2Us have a long list of things we’d like to achieve this year. At the top of that list, though, is continuing to close the mentoring gap in this country. All young people should have access to a positive, well-trained adult who cares about them and believes that they are worthy of deep, unconditional love. Dr. Valliant knew it, our Up2Us coaches know it—and they, alongside millions of other adult mentors worldwide, live it every day.
Caitlin Barrett Associate Director, Coach Training & Excellence Up2Us