Can the past keep life pleasant even for old-old trauma survivors?

Amit Shrira*, Dov Shmotkin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Objectives: This study examined the relative effect of positive and negative autobiographical aspects in later life as a function of the traumatic experience of the Holocaust and age. Method: Old (age ≤80) and old-old (age >80) participants who were identified as Holocaust survivors (n = 225), and comparison of pre-war (n = 103) and post-war (n = 254) European-descent immigrants referred to their past in a biographical interview. The participants depicted personally perceived outstanding life periods defined as anchor periods (Shmotkin, D. (2005). Happiness in face of adversity: Reformulating the dynamic and modular bases of subjective well-being. Review of General Psychology, 9, 291-325). They rated their happiness and suffering during major anchor periods ('the happiest period' and 'the most miserable period') as well as their life satisfaction. Results: The findings suggest that even after massive trauma and under accelerating decline associated with old-old age, the past can keep life pleasant, as indicated by the stronger association of past happiness, compared to that of past suffering, with life satisfaction. Nevertheless, past suffering was associated with life satisfaction among the Holocaust survivors and manifested a stronger effect among most of the old-old participants. Conclusion: Holocaust survivors demonstrated a greater difficulty to compensate for age-related losses while the comparison groups showed a greater optimization of satisfaction through narrative means in old-old age.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)807-819
Number of pages13
JournalAging and Mental Health
Volume12
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 2008

Keywords

  • Anchor periods
  • Holocaust survivors
  • Life satisfaction
  • Life story
  • Old-old age

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