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Should lottery winners share with colleagues?

Editorial / OpinionEditorial / Opinion: Should lottery winners share with colleagues?

By Jason Marsh

If you won $19 million, would you share it with your co-workers?

That's the question seven lucky New York state employees arereportedly contemplating after claiming the huge Mega Millions lottery jackpot Thursday. For years, the so-called "Albany Seven" have pooled their money to buy lottery tickets together.

Now that their numbers have come up, they are in a position to share their winnings with five colleagues who had been part of the pool in the past but didn't pitch in this time around.

The idea of sharing a multimillion dollar windfall such as this might seem ludicrous. It surely goes against some longstanding notions we have about human behavior, namely that it's guided by self-interest.

But a recent wave of scientific research suggests it's not such a crazy idea after all. In fact, giving away a portion of their winnings might be a surer route to happiness for the Albany Seven than keeping it all for themselves.

Many psychological studies have found that after our basic needs are met, more money does not necessarily bring us more happiness; it might even impair our ability to enjoy positive experiences in life. What's more, research has shown that lottery winners are no happier than the rest of us, and they get less pleasure from everyday activities.

On the flip side, though, there's a growing body of evidence that people feel a genuine boost of pleasure and happiness when they give to others. Altruism activates the same regions of the brain that light up when we have sex, eat chocolate or indulge in other pleasures, according to scientists at the National Institutes of Health. Some research even suggests we feel more happiness when we spend on others than when we spend on ourselves.

Even if they're not aware of these findings, there could be other factors that cause the Albany Seven to share their winnings with their less lucky colleagues.

For one thing, people are significantly more likely to show altruism toward members of their own "group" or "team," perhaps because we identify with members of our own group more than others, and there's a greater chance we'll count on them to return the favor down the line. Co-workers are a good example of such a team, especially in this case, where co-workers pooled their money on the same lottery "team" for years.

Generosity also stems from our deeply rooted sense of fairness. Though we often lament humans' selfishness, a great deal of research shows that we're often willing to share a prize with others, especially when there's reason to believe they deserve at least part of that prize.

This is true even among young children. In a recent study out of Harvard, pairs of 3-year-old kids had to work together to obtain a prize, but only one of the two kids on each team actually got his or her hands on it. Still, that prize winner was overwhelmingly likely to share the prize with the partner, even though he or she didn't have to do so.

These kids seemed guided by a strong, perhaps innate, drive toward fairness and cooperation. Deep down, they knew they should share their spoils — and the Albany Seven might be influenced by the same magnanimous impulses.

But this doesn't mean that they will be. There are definitely some psychological forces working in the opposite direction. For example, in general, research shows that people (incorrectly) assume more money — and more spending on themselves — will make them happier. And research also shows that when we receive an unexpected gift, we often rationalize our good fortune by telling ourselves that we somehow deserve it.

But studies also suggest this way of thinking is a quick ticket to unhappiness. Instead, they show that people are significantly happier when they practice gratitude — when they recognize and appreciate that the gifts they receive in life come from outside themselves, whether through the help of other people, a higher power or plain dumb luck.

Albany Seven, take note: Grateful people are happier, enjoy better health and have stronger relationships.

And what better way to appreciate a gift than to pay it forward?

Jason Marsh is the editor-in-chief of Greater Good, the online magazine published by the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley. He's also a co-editor of the books "The Compassionate Instinct: The Science of Human Goodness" and "Are We Born Racist? New Insights from Neuroscience and Positive Psychology."


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52 comments. Last comment 6 years ago by savagegoose.
Page 1 of 4
liberal47's avatar - Rowlf
Holt MI
United States
Member #2244
September 4, 2003
69 Posts
Posted: April 3, 2011, 8:19 am - IP Logged

When I was running the office lottery pool, I took an event such as this into account. In the agreement which I drew up, I specified that if the player had joined into the money pool on the previous drawing, and did not make the deadline for the current drawing, they had until the date of the following drawing to pay for that drawing that was missed. This was done in case of illness, injury, or just plain forgetfulness. It was also done for situations such as the one facing the New York Seven. I didn't want to faced with the moral dilema and drama that they are facing. What would happen if they decided to give money to one or two of the people who did not join in, and not the rest. I could see lawsuits popping up like mushrooms.  Rules are rules and the people who did not play made the decision not to. They took a chance and blew it. If the members of the winning group feel sorry for them and want to give a share to them, it would have to be a unanimous decision.

    mightwin's avatar - questns

    United States
    Member #103786
    January 5, 2011
    486 Posts
    Posted: April 3, 2011, 8:56 am - IP Logged

    Wow I really hope they are not actually thinking this. I play the lotto on a regular basis and if one day I didn't play for whatever reason, and my numbers hit, does that mean I should have a share of the jackpot? Nope that would be my own darn fault!

      sully16's avatar - sharan
      United States
      Member #81740
      October 28, 2009
      40420 Posts
      Posted: April 3, 2011, 9:21 am - IP Logged

      Would I share a jackpot that no one else chipped in for ? no , I would however give money and gifts to people I care about. If I did win a million dollar jackpot it would be kept very quiet.

      Did you exchange a walk on part in the war ?

      For a lead role in a cage?


                                                  From Pink Floyd's " Wish you were here"

        dallascowboyfan's avatar - tiana the-princess-and-the-frog.jpg
        United States
        Member #82391
        November 12, 2009
        6290 Posts
        Posted: April 3, 2011, 9:21 am - IP Logged

        If any thing I would give the max that you can give tax free.... I believe it's $12,000 or $13,000.

          maringoman's avatar - images q=tbn:ANd9GcTbRxpKQmOfcCoUqF2FyqIOAwDo7rg9G-lfJLAALPGWJWwiz19eRw
          United States
          Member #37433
          April 14, 2006
          2747 Posts
          Posted: April 3, 2011, 9:46 am - IP Logged

          $19M is a lot of money and I am not a greedy man. I would give money to the guys who didnt participate in that drawing if their resons were genuine.

          Stinking attitudes like "I don't feel lucky" or "lottery is a waste of money" would disqualify somebody from my generosity. However if somebody was low on cash or away from the office then sure, I'm giving them $25,000

          If you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all and you will never make enemies.

          That money's gone fo ever

            BaristaExpress's avatar - BaristaExpressMX zpsfb0d8b5d.png
            Magnolia, Delaware
            United States
            Member #18795
            July 20, 2005
            789 Posts
            Posted: April 3, 2011, 9:46 am - IP Logged

            Now if someone who plays all the time and not just once in a while and they were sick or on vacation maybe they would be considered apart of the winning group!

            But anything other than that the saying goes as follows "No Pay, No Play, No Payday" that's the way the cookie crumbles!

            Keep dreaming the impossible dream, it just may come true! Thumbs Up

              st.germain's avatar - Tarlor
              chicago ill.
              United States
              Member #3600
              February 4, 2004
              337 Posts
              Posted: April 3, 2011, 9:51 am - IP Logged

              Hell no......they dediced not to play because they didn't feel like they would win so .... ,.NO> what part don't you understand..the N or the O?

                JAP69's avatar - alas
                South Carolina
                United States
                Member #6
                November 4, 2001
                8790 Posts
                Posted: April 3, 2011, 10:18 am - IP Logged

                This dilemma is why lottery pools stink.

                If this office lottery pool has been going for years what about previous pool members that are no longer in that office? They have previously put money in that office pool.


                  JonnyBgood07's avatar - Patriots logo1.jpg
                  United States
                  Member #61623
                  May 29, 2008
                  20581 Posts
                  Posted: April 3, 2011, 10:38 am - IP Logged

                  No one deserves nothing who doesn't shake loose with some dough for the drawing !  period.

                  The winners will be giving up enough amongst close family and friends.I finally just got the person who runs our pool to keep a meticulous list of who paid..not who had good intentions.

                  "No matter how bad things may get, I'd like to thank my middle finger

                  for always sticking up for me.."


                    mpat69's avatar - Lottery-018.jpg
                    New Member
                    Federal Way
                    United States
                    Member #55594
                    October 9, 2007
                    7 Posts
                    Posted: April 3, 2011, 10:58 am - IP Logged

                    I live in Washington State. At the time I ran a Pool, it was for POWERBALL only because we had Megamillions at that time. I would drive down to Oregon and buy tickets for Powerball. I would buy some just for myself, along with the pool tickets. For each drawing, each person that played for that specific drawing would sign a contract I made up. If you did not sign, that meant you did not pay and would not get anything if we did win. The contract also stated that I bought tickets of my own and if they won, the group would not share in those. I ensured that by making copies of the tickets we played with in the pool and gave them out to those playing. Along with a copy of the contract. Now that Washington State has both drawings, I have not done any pools at all.

                    "You cannot win, if you do not play....."

                      Piaceri's avatar - sarsony1
                      Republic of Texas
                      United States
                      Member #57557
                      January 9, 2008
                      1095 Posts
                      Posted: April 3, 2011, 11:11 am - IP Logged

                      This is why I don't do pools. Winning a jackpot is enough stress in itself, but to add the stress of being concerned and possibly feeling guilty because so-and-so two cubicles down made the personal decision to sit out the pool that drawing...  I'm just not willing to do that.



                        Piaceri's avatar - sarsony1
                        Republic of Texas
                        United States
                        Member #57557
                        January 9, 2008
                        1095 Posts
                        Posted: April 3, 2011, 11:14 am - IP Logged

                        This is why I don't do pools. Winning a jackpot is enough stress in itself, but to add the stress of being concerned and possibly feeling guilty because so-and-so two cubicles down made the personal decision to sit out the pool that drawing...  I'm just not willing to do that.

                        Posted: Today, 11:11 am – IP Logged <---- 11:11 make a wish.... White Bounce




                          United States
                          Member #106133
                          February 13, 2011
                          17 Posts
                          Posted: April 3, 2011, 11:28 am - IP Logged

                          You gotta play to win, that's just how it goes.


                            United States
                            Member #13589
                            April 9, 2005
                            27 Posts
                            Posted: April 3, 2011, 11:29 am - IP Logged

                            Are you crazy???!!!  I take a chance with my hard earned money and another person decides to hold on to their money!!!  I don't think so!  I'm not particularly feeling lucky when I give up my money but I know I can't win if I don't play no matter how I feel!!!  Now, unless the pool play-in money is high and the person didn't have the money, I may consider giving the legal tax amount which I think is $10,000 but everyone in the pool would have to agree and give the same amount; otherwise, you lose just like the millions across the USA that did put money on a ticket and didn't win!!!