Happiness Matters in Aging with a Disability

TitleHappiness Matters in Aging with a Disability
Publication TypeConference Proceedings
Year of Conference2012
AuthorsEhde DM, Goetz MC, Molton IR, Bombardier CH, Jensen MP
PublisherAmerican Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine (ACRM) Annual Conference
Conference LocationVancouver, BC

Objectives:  Psychosocial well-being, including happiness, is rarely studied in people with disabilities, despite the potential for such research to expand our understanding of the full range of functioning in the context of aging with a disability. This study aims to answer the following questions: (1) Where do people with disabilities fall on a happiness scale overall and across age groups (by disability group)? (2)  How do they compare to community samples without disability? (3) What are the correlates of happiness in people aging with physical disability?

Design:  Cross-sectional postal survey 

Setting:  Community

Participants: 1862 adults (63.3% female) with muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, post-polio syndrome, or spinal cord injury.

Interventions: none

Main Outcome Measure:  The Subjective Happiness Scale (Lyubomirksy & Lepper, 1999) was used to assess happiness. The total score ranges from 1(lowest) to 7 (highest).

Results:  Analyses examined levels of happiness for the total sample and for each disability condition individually across four age cohorts: 18-44, 45-64, 65-74, and 75+ years. The sample’s mean happiness level varied between 5.04 (SD: 1.26) for those age 45-64 and 5.6 (SD: 1.16) for those age 65-74. Levels of happiness across different age cohorts and disability conditions were comparable to levels of happiness reported in other samples of adults without physical disabilities. Happiness differed significantly by disability condition and by age; older cohorts were happier than younger cohorts. Pain, vision loss, and falls were negatively correlated with happiness.

Conclusions:  Studying the full spectrum of psychosocial functioning, including happiness, may broaden our understanding of successful aging with physical disability.

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