$550 Million Power Ball Lottery = Happiness?

With all of the excitement over the now $550 million Power Ball lottery, I thought I would share with you a brief excerpt from my book (Pages 151-152), Shiny Objects: Why we spend money we don’t have in search of happiness we can’t buy (Harper Collins, 2011). I hope you add my book to your Holiday shopping list.

My mother-in-law saw a great t-shirt that read “Please Lord give me a chance to prove that winning the lottery won’t change me.” I am sure this is a sentiment we all share—win the lottery and all our troubles simply fade away. Well, not quite. In a classic study on how winning the lottery might impact one’s happiness, researchers Philip Brickman, Dan Coates, and Ronnie Janoff-Bulman interviewed 22 major winners of the Illinois state lottery. The trio also interviewed 22 average consumers and interestingly, 29 accident victims which included 11 paraplegic and 18 quadriplegic respondents.

Each of the three groups (lottery winners, average consumers, and accident victims) were asked to rate on 6-point scales ranging from 0 for “not at all” to 5 for “very much”, how happy they were now (not at this moment, but at this stage of their life), how happy they were before winning the lottery or the accident, or six months ago for the average consumers. To close, each group was asked to rate how happy they expected to be in a couple of years. The groups were also asked to rate how pleasant they found every day events such as: talking with friends, watching TV, eating breakfast, hearing a funny joke, getting a compliment, reading a magazine, and buying clothes.

Surprisingly, as the table below attests, lottery winners were no happier than typical consumers when looking to the past, in the present, or expectation of future happiness. The real kick in the pants is that lottery winners did not foresee any greater future happiness than did the accident victims. And, when it came to enjoying the everyday pleasures of life, lottery winners rated the seven everyday activities as less pleasurable than the average consumer group. It appears that after such a big event like winning the lottery, simple pleasures lose some of their luster.

                                   The Happiness of Lottery Winners

                                           General Happiness     Everyday
Group                            Past  Present  Future    Pleasures
Lottery Winners          3.77     4.00       4.20          3.33
Average Consumers   3.32     3.82        4.14          3.82
Accident Victims         4.41     2.96        4.32          3.48
* All ratings were on a 6-point scale that ranged from 0 (not at all) to 5(very much)

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3 Responses to $550 Million Power Ball Lottery = Happiness?

  1. Rebecca Malzahn says:

    I’ve never been a gambler–hopefully never will!! But when I heard about all of the powerball hoopla, I was intrigued. The night of the drawing, a friend and I went to the gas station to see what all the comotion was about. We stood in line behind a woman counting out $100 bills. I turned to my friend in disbelief. From the woman’s appearance, it looked as if it was her months paycheck or something! Luckily, by the time we reached the front of the line, the powerball had closed because they were drawing the “lucky” winner.

    The next day, I was reading stories posted by various news outlets on Facebook. You wouldn’t believe some of the comments I read. “Hope they needed it, guess I’ll have to go to work now.” “Can’t believe I didn’t win, could’ve really used the money…”

    In my personal opinion, there is something wrong with the mass amounts of Americans relying on the lottery (and government) to bail them out of their financial debts! It’s extrememly frustrating for hard-working individuals that understand the reality and importance of earning money.

    Thanks for sharing this- its extremely interesting.

  2. Brandon Bambico says:

    It’s the American Dream to one day cash in on one of the lotteries, quit your job and be financially safe for years to come. However, too many people associate this with happiness, but they will be disappointed if this is their sign of happiness. I believe their everyday pleasures are less than the average consumer because all their pleasure is in the money, not activities

  3. Brandon Bambico says:

    It’s the American Dream to one day cash in on one of the lotteries, quit your job and be financially safe for years to come. However, too many people associate this with happiness, but they will be disappointed if this is their sign of happiness. I believe their everyday pleasures are less than the average consumer because all their pleasure is in the money, not activities.

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