Disasters effectively break the ability of a community to operate effectively and create a serious challenge to both individual and community wellbeing. We analyse longer-term recovery as a system that enables community members to regain and retain material and subjective wellbeing. In this paper we posit that wellbeing needs to be understood as an important emergent property of a disaster recovery system. However, in certain cases wellbeing does not occur and the recovery system has become “stuck”. We apply a systems traps lens to a well-known recovery effort where wellbeing did not emerge equitably or sufficiently to show where and how the system got stuck. We present three system traps that severely hindered wellbeing emergence following the Canterbury earthquakes. From this we suggest system traps are a useful analytical tool for those undertaking disaster recovery seeking to better support the development of wellbeing. We conclude that applying a systems traps lens to long-term recovery systems in general, and wellbeing in particular helps to both identify where challenges are located and how to address them.