This Is How Long Sadness Lasts After A Major Life Event

The saddest events in life are health problems, bereavement and large financial losses.

The saddest events in life are health problems, bereavement and large financial losses.

It takes around four years for people to recover their well-being after the saddest events in life, such as health problems, bereavement and large financial losses, research finds.

In contrast, the happiest events in life — marriage, childbirth and a major financial gain — typically only provide a boost to happiness for two years.

Many major life events have relatively little effect on happiness, including moving house and getting a new job, the study also revealed.

Dr Nathan Kettlewell, the study’s first author, said:

“Marriage, childbirth and a major financial gain produced the greatest elevation to wellbeing, however they did not lead to long-lasting happiness – the positive effect generally wore off after two years.

However, there was also an anticipatory effect for marriage and childbirth, with wellbeing increasing prior to these events.”

The study tracked the major life events of 14,000 people in Australia over 12 years.

The four most common life events are getting a new job, moving house, pregnancy and injury or illness in a close family member.

The results showed that events that had the greatest negative impact on well-being were large financial losses, health problems and the death of a partner.

Those that had the greatest positive impact were a large financial gain, getting married and having a baby.

In contrast, getting fired, being promoted and moving house had relatively little effect on well-being.

Dr Kettlewell said:

“The life events that saw the deepest plunge in wellbeing were the death of a partner or child, separation, a large financial loss or a health shock.

But even for these negative experiences, on average people recovered to their pre-shock level of wellbeing by around four years.”

The researchers looked at two different types of happiness: feeling good and life satisfaction.

Life satisfaction is how people evaluate their lives overall while happiness refers to emotion felt in the moment.

Life events like marriage and retirement made people more satisfied with their lives, but did not make much difference to felt happiness.

People having children felt quite satisfied in the first year but were significantly less happy.

Dr Kettlewell said:

“While chasing after happiness may be misplaced, the results suggest that the best chances for enhancing wellbeing may lie in protecting against negative shocks, for example by establishing strong relationships, investing in good health and managing financial risks.

And we can take consolation from the fact that, although it takes time, wellbeing can recover from even the worst circumstances.”

The study was published in the journal SSM – Population Health (Kettlewell et al., 2020).

Author: Dr Jeremy Dean

Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology. He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004.

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