Federico Cargnelutti has posted a class (DateIntervalFormat) that gives you the difference between a date and "now" in words rather than an integer.
This class, a refactored version of Drupal's format_interval function, makes it relatively easy to format an interval value. The format will automatically format as compactly as possible. For example: if the difference between the two dates is only a few hours and both dates occur on the same day, the year, month, and day parts of the date will be omitted.
So, instead of getting a value of "86400 seconds" you'd get back something like "5 days 3 hours".