In this chapter we explore how various life challenges influence psychological well-being and health. Our conception of life challenge encompasses both normative (typical, anticipated, planned) life transitions as well as nonnormative (atypical, unexpected, sometimes traumatic) life experiences. The individual difference variable we link to these challenges is psychological well-being. Drawn from depictions of positive functioning in developmental, clinical, and mental health literatures, well-being encompasses numerous dimensions of positive functioning (e.g., self-acceptance, quality of ties to others, mastery, purpose). The question thus is how these various aspects of well-being are affected by, or themselves affect, the experiential challenges that comprise an individual's life history.
Our chapter is organized into three sections, which in themselves, represent an evolving research program that began largely with questions in domains of life-course development and personality, and in recent years, has moved progressively in the direction of connecting life challenge and well-being to health. The first section is focused on single normative and nonnormative experiences of adulthood and aging, where we highlight findings from three categories of studies, which deal, respectively, with the parental experience in midlife, community relocation and caregiving in old age, and health challenges of later life. Across each of these, the focus is on how such experiences have impact on psychological well-being. The second section addresses cumulative profiles of life experience that combine both normative and nonnormative challenges. Here again, the focus is on the imprint of such long-term profiles of experience on positive psychological functioning.