Happy Ever After? A Natural Experiment of the Set-Point Theory of Happiness with Survivors of Hurricane Katrina

Rocio Calvo, Boston College
Sarah R. Lowe, Columbia University
Mary Waters, Harvard University

In this study, we employed a sample of Hurricanes Katrina survivors (N = 438) to examine the set-point theory of happiness. The main argument of the set-point theory is that happiness is stable and, although major life-changing events can cause deviations, the effects are transitory and people eventually return to their baseline happiness. Unlike previous research, we measured happiness at baseline, as well as at 12 and 36 months post-disaster. Paired-samples t-test showed that general happiness significantly decreased from baseline to 12 months after the disaster, and significantly increased from 12 months to 36 months post-disaster. There was not a significant difference between baseline happiness and happiness 36 months post-disaster. Regression analysis found that changes in happiness over the course of the study related to perceived social support, general health, marital status, and property damage due to the storm.

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Presented in Session 193: Responses to Environmental Shocks