Journal Article

The differential impact of major life events on cognitive and affective wellbeing

Published: 2020


Major life events affect our wellbeing. However the comparative impact of different events, which often co-occur, has not been systematically evaluated, or studies assumed that the impacts are equivalent in both amplitude and duration, that different wellbeing domains are equally affected, and that individuals exhibit hedonic adaptation. We evaluated the individual and conditional impact of eighteen major life-events, and compared their effects on affective and cognitive wellbeing in a large population-based cohort using fixed-effect regression models assessing within person change. Several commonly cited events had little, if any, independent effect on wellbeing (promotion, being fired, friends passing), whilst others had profound impacts regardless of co-occurring events (e.g., financial loss, death of partner, childbirth). No life events had overall positive effects on both types of wellbeing, but separation, injury/illnesses and monetary losses caused negative impacts on both, which did not display hedonic adaptation. Affective hedonic adaptation to all positive events occurred by two years but monetary gains and retirement had ongoing benefits on cognitive wellbeing. Marriage, retirement and childbirth had positive effects on cognitive wellbeing but no overall effect on affective wellbeing, whilst moving home was associated with a negative effect on cognitive wellbeing but no affective wellbeing response. Describing the independent impact of different life events, and, for some, the differential affective and life satisfaction responses, and lack of hedonic adaptation people display, may help clinicians, economists and policy-makers, but individual’s hopes for happiness from positive events appears misplaced.


Kettlewell, N., Morris, R. W., Ho, N., Cobb-Clark, D. A., Cripps, S., & Glozier, N. (2020). The differential impact of major life events on cognitive and affective wellbeing. SSM-population health, 10, 100533.