$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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