Nearly 15 percent reported happiness levels that were gradually improving before losing their jobs. After the job loss, happiness dipped for this group but then rose again and returned to the pre-unemployment level.
Still, not everyone bounced back so quickly. About 13 percent reported being unhappy before losing their job and remained unhappy afterward.
"They are a depressed group and not happy with their life," Galatzer-Levy said. "They also were the least likely to be re-employed."
Another 4 percent seemed to be truly shaken by losing their job. They saw their happiness levels plummet after job loss, and, though they gradually recovered, at three years out they had not regained their previous sense of well-being.
"There is a small group of people that does really badly," he said. "This is the group that pulls the average way down."
This also might explain why other studies have shown that people who are laid off never regain their prior level of happiness.
Of course, Germany in the late 1980s is not the United States during the current economic downturn, Galatzer said, noting that he can't tell for sure if the findings would apply here. But he suspects a similar pattern would hold.
"Physically and psychologically, human beings are a very resilient species," he said. "It doesn't make a lot of sense that unemployment would take this huge toll on you that you can't recover from."
Robert Chope, a professor of counseling at San Francisco State University and a psychologist with the Career and Personal Development Institute in San Francisco, called the results "interesting and not necessarily surprising."
"I have worked with many clients who have done quite well after a layoff and change, often radical, in their career paths," Chope said.
However, the paper didn't delve into the nature of the work that people did before losing their job, whether they could easily transfer their training and exper
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