Winning the Lottery: Instant Happiness or Doomed?

You might be of two minds about what it would be like to win the lottery. On the one hand, it sounds like a dream come true. You’d never need to worry about how to pay the rent or mortgage or if you were saving enough for retirement again. On the other hand, you may have heard that people are often unhappy after winning the lottery or even have their lives ruined. Which scenario is true? The truth is, while most lottery winners describe feelings of unreality for several months along with mood swings after a big win, there are less that have to try and make money fast to get by, and can report life settling down to be more or less normal again only with far less worry. 

Why People Buy Lottery Tickets

Psychological research says that the extremely low chances of winning the lottery do not seem to dampen people’s enthusiasm for buying tickets. One factor is the low cost of the tickets. In fact, people with lower incomes appear to be more likely to buy lottery tickets than those with higher incomes.

Happiness and Winning

Several psychological studies actually show that people do not necessarily report a significant boost in happiness after winning the lottery. On the other hand, winning the lottery also does not tend to destroy lives. While those kinds of stories are certainly out there, it’s likely that you hear about them because they make for more interesting news copy than stories about lottery winners who invested wisely and kept a modest home. In short, it turns out that winning the lottery is unlikely to fundamentally change who you are, for better or for worse.

Happiness Set Points

One study of happiness looked at lottery winners, people who had become paraplegic or quadriplegic in a catastrophic accident, and a control group who had neither of these things happen to them. There was not a particularly significant difference in happiness between the lottery winners and the control group. The group that had been in the accident reported lower levels of happiness, but not as low as might be expected. Furthermore, lottery winners reported struggling more to enjoy small pleasures in life. Psychologists theorize that there is a kind of set point for happiness in each person that people tend to return to regardless of their life circumstances.

Winning the Lottery

On the other hand, studies have also shown that people with higher incomes are happier up to a certain point. This will come as no surprise to anyone who has struggled to make ends meet. However, beyond a certain point, incomes that are higher and higher do not appear to make people any happier. Case studies suggest that the people who are most content after a lottery tend to be those who keep some aspects of normality in their lives. What this means to different people varies. Some people continue working although they might go into different careers. Others invest carefully and take advantage of the fact that they can spend more time with their families.

Ultimately, playing the lottery can be a lot of fun because it can be cheap and easy to get lottery tickets. They don’t cost much, so if you don’t manage to beat the incredible odds and win, you still get the chance to indulge in some in some daydreaming about what you’d do with more money than you can imagine.