This article is based on a qualitative study exploring reasons for ill-being and well-being among twenty participants in a Norwegian activation programme. The Qualification Programme aims to enhance participants’ overall life situations and employability by offering work training to long-term social assistance recipients, among other things. As an analytic framework for discussing ill-being and well-being, this article employs Amartya Sen's capability approach, which assesses the individual's ability to live a good life, and Martha Nussbaum's conceptualisation of that approach. The findings indicate that hardship was demonstrated in the respondents’ lives: participants could not cope financially and suffered from mental and physical health problems, while shame worsened their circumstances. However, participants also showed signs of enhanced well-being as they experienced increased individual agency. The study indicated a disparity between the intended and the actual direction of change in the lives of programme participants.