Long-term disability is associated with lasting changes in subjective well-being: evidence from two nationally representative longitudinal studies

J Pers Soc Psychol. 2007 Apr;92(4):717-30. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.92.4.717.


Hedonic adaptation refers to the process by which individuals return to baseline levels of happiness following a change in life circumstances. Two nationally representative panel studies (Study 1: N = 39,987; Study 2: N = 27,406) were used to investigate the extent of adaptation that occurs following the onset of a long-term disability. In Study 1, 679 participants who acquired a disability were followed for an average of 7.18 years before and 7.39 years after onset of the disability. In Study 2, 272 participants were followed for an average of 3.48 years before and 5.31 years after onset. Disability was associated with moderate to large drops in happiness (effect sizes ranged from 0.40 to 1.27 standard deviations), followed by little adaptation over time.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adult
  • Disability Evaluation*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Quality of Life* / psychology