Journal of Happiness Studies

, Volume 13, Issue 3, pp 389–409 | Cite as

Happiness and Suffering in the Life Story: An Inquiry into Conflicting Expectations Concerning the Association of Perceived Past with Present Subjective Well-Being in Old Age

  • Dov ShmotkinEmail author
  • Amit Shrira


The study examined whether positive or negative aspects of the life story were predominantly associated with present subjective well-being (SWB). Two samples (N = 815 and 213; mean ages 75 and 73) rated past emotions (happiness and suffering) in positive and negative anchor periods (e.g., “the happiest period,” “the most miserable period”) of their life stories. The indices of present SWB were present happiness, present suffering, and life satisfaction. Results indicated that when the past emotions were net of each other, past happiness was related to the positive indices, but not to the negative index, of present SWB whereas past suffering was related to the negative index, and only partially to the positive indices, of present SWB. Congruent emotions (happiness in positive periods, suffering in negative periods) were stronger than incongruent emotions (happiness in negative periods, suffering in positive periods), yet each had unique associations with present SWB. Finally, past happiness weakened the inverse relationship between past suffering and present SWB, yet it strengthened this relationship when past emotions were both incongruent (i.e., when happiness in negative periods was analyzed in conjunction with suffering in positive periods). In conclusion, rather than presenting predominance over each other, positive and negative ingredients in the life story maintain complementary and interactive associations with present SWB. In this context, the study points to the SWB-related implications of the interplay between paramount life experiences in the individual’s anchor periods and the emotions that the individual attributes to these periods.


Happiness Suffering Subjective well-being Life story Anchor periods Old age 


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyTel Aviv UniversityTel AvivIsrael
  2. 2.Herczeg Institute on AgingTel Aviv UniversityTel AvivIsrael

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