Study looks at levels of happiness before and after Hurricane Katrina

After Hurricane Katrina, researchers interviewed about 1,000 low-income parents for an academic study. The hurricane disrupted the study, but prompted researchers to re-interview the parents for a before and after comparison about how people respond to unpredictable natural disasters.

They’ve since created the “Resilience in Survivors of Katrina” (RISK) project, which looks at how the storm affected child outcomes, mental health, residential mobility, and post-traumatic stress.

Fast Company published an article about the project this week, saying:

“One of the intriguing studies to come out of the work was published recently in the Journal of Happiness Studies. It looked at what you’d expect: The pre- and post-disaster levels of happiness among 491 of the survey participants, all women. It honed in on how they answered the survey question, ‘If you were to consider your life in general these days, how happy or unhappy would you say you are?’

The results, according Rocio Calvo, an assistant professor at Boston College’s School of Social Work and the lead researcher on the happiness study, were encouraging and surprising. Even only one year after the storm, almost 89% of women remained in the ‘somewhat happy’ or ‘very happy’ categories, though there was a drop in happiness on average. However, by four years after the storm, almost all of the respondents had gone back to their pre-storm happiness levels. ‘I think individuals are more resilient than they are given credit for,’ she says.”

The article goes on to say that the study shows the importance of “supporting the community fabric” of populations that are vulnerable. The media has an opportunity to do this, too, by looking for Restorative Narratives — stories about resilience, renewal, and recovery — in the aftermath of a natural disaster, rather than reporting only on the tragedy itself.


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