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Happily Ever After? Pre-and-Post Disaster Determinants of Happiness Among Survivors of Hurricane Katrina

Abstract

This study investigated pre- to post-disaster changes in happiness of 491 women affected by Hurricane Katrina, and identified factors that were associated with the survivors’ happiness after the storm. Participants completed surveys approximately 1 year before and 1 and 4 years after the storm. The surveys collected information on the women’s happiness, social support, household characteristics, and hurricane exposure. We found that happiness significantly decreased from pre-disaster to 1 year post-disaster but there were no significant differences in happiness between the pre-disaster and 4 years post-disaster assessments. An exception were 38 women who continued to have lower levels of happiness 4 years post-disaster than at pre-disaster. These women were more likely to be living on their own after the storm and reported consistently lower levels of perceived social support from the community both before and after the storm than the other women of the sample. Factors associated with the survivor’s happiness after the storm included exposure to hurricane stressors and losing a loved one to the hurricane. These were predictive of lower happiness 1 year post-disaster. Four years after the hurricane only exposure to hurricane stressors was predictive of lower levels of happiness. In contrast, pre-disaster happiness and post-disaster social support were protective against the negative effect of the hurricane on survivors’ happiness.

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Acknowledgments

This study was funded by National Institutes of Health Grant R01HD046162 and RO1HD057599, the National Science Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, and the Princeton Center for Economic Policy Studies. We are grateful to the editor and two anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments and suggestions.

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Correspondence to Rocío Calvo.

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Calvo, R., Arcaya, M., Baum, C.F. et al. Happily Ever After? Pre-and-Post Disaster Determinants of Happiness Among Survivors of Hurricane Katrina. J Happiness Stud 16, 427–442 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-014-9516-5

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-014-9516-5

Keywords

  • Pre-disaster
  • Post-disaster
  • Happiness
  • Social support
  • Hurricane exposure