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How to win the lottery (happily)

Editorial / OpinionEditorial / Opinion: How to win the lottery (happily)

If you have won the lottery, or if you plan to do so, please keep reading this column. The information is vital not just to your happiness but also to the progress of social science.

You have a chance to dispel the notion of the curse of the lottery, which is blamed whenever a big winner ends up divorced, depressed, destitute or dead. Journalists like to explain that the curse is no mere legend — the futility of winning the jackpot has been demonstrated by actual scientists with jobs at accredited universities.

The evidence comes from an influential paper in 1978 reporting that lottery winners were not any happier than their neighbors or more optimistic about the future. In fact, they weren't any more optimistic about their future happiness than a group of people who had been in accidents that left them paralyzed.

It was one of the first studies testing the theory that we're all stuck on a "hedonic treadmill," a term coined by the paper's lead author, Philip Brickman, for the idea that good or bad events don't permanently affect our levels of happiness. The theory remains popular with many psychologists, and the lottery study is still one of the prime pieces of supporting evidence.

But the study involved only 22 lottery winners, and it didn't reveal whether their happiness changed. It measured their feelings at just one point in time, typically within a year of hitting the jackpot, and it compared them at that point with neighbors whose names were chosen from a phone book. Dr. Brickman and his co-authors noted the limitations and urged more rigorous research tracking winners' feelings over time. (He died in 1982.)

It has taken a few decades, but that research has finally been done. The findings are good news for those who hit the jackpot — and for the rest of us who want to get off that hedonic treadmill.

The feelings of hundreds of lottery winners were tracked in two separate studies, both drawing on a British national survey of adults who were extensively interviewed annually about their states of mind and about events in their lives.

One of the studies, by Bénédicte Apouey and Andrew E. Clark of the Paris School of Economics, found that people tended to drink and smoke a little more after winning the prize, but that their overall physical health remained the same. Their levels of stress declined over two years while their positive feelings increased, so that their general psychological well-being was significantly higher two years after winning than it had been beforehand.

The other study, by Jonathan Gardner and Andrew J. Oswald of the University of Warwick in England, found that winners' psychological well-being dipped slightly the year they won the prize, but more than rebounded the next two years. The winners ended up much better off psychologically, and also better off than both the general population and a sample of lottery players who hadn't won a significant prize.

The curse of the lottery was further debunked in a survey of more than 400 Swedish lottery winners by Anna Hedenus, a sociologist at the University of Gothenburg. She found that most winners refrained from splurging, preferring to save or invest the prize money, and that most reported being quite content.

"The story about the unhappy, squandering winner primarily functions as a cautionary tale," Dr. Hedenus says. "But this is not the common reaction to the lottery windfall."

Still, it does take a little time to adjust. Dr. Oswald, a behavioral economist, notes that the initial stress reported by the British winners in his study jibes with other evidence.

"No researcher has ever found that people are happier in the first year after winning the lottery," he says. "My own hunch is that they have to talk themselves into believing they deserved it. It may also be that neighbors and relatives have to be dealt with in the first year, if only subconsciously, and that that is another reason the quest for immediate happiness is thwarted."

Those adjustment problems could well last longer for the really big winners in American lotteries. The maximum jackpots in the European studies were the equivalent of about $250,000 in Britain and $1 million in Sweden — nothing like the hundreds of millions of dollars awarded in the Powerball and Mega Millions lotteries. Those jackpots can inspire a lifelong attitude among friends and relatives: You can't possibly spend all that money yourself. Let me help you.

"Big jackpot winners say everyone they ever met comes out of the woodwork and asks for money, especially their family," says Michael I. Norton, a social psychologist at Harvard Business School. In the book "Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending," Dr. Norton, a co-author, reports that giving away money is one of the surest ways to increase your happiness, but he doesn't see much joy in a jackpot winner being hounded the rest of his life by people looking for charity.

"The problem with a big lottery win," Dr. Norton says, "is that it adds a group of people to your life that you don't want to be in contact with, and it disrupts the relationships with the people you do want to be in contact with."

That does sound like a curse, but Dr. Norton hypothesizes that there's an antidote: Keep your jackpot secret. Tell no one but your spouse; make no extravagant purchases or gifts at first, but slowly increase your spending and your giving so no one will suspect your newfound wealth.

Dr. Oswald, the British researcher, endorses anonymity as a good long-term strategy, but he suspects there will still be problems at first.

"If I won the lottery, I would keep the fact to myself," he says. "But my research in this area makes me think that even then I would not immediately be happier. Especially if people win big, I reckon that in the middle of the night they cannot shake off, deep inside the mind, the nagging feeling of not deserving the money. You can keep the win anonymous to everyone except yourself."

Last year, a $400 million Powerball jackpot was collected anonymously in South Carolina, which does not require public disclosure of the winner. Most other states do, but just because lotteries crave publicity doesn't mean you have to provide it. Robert Pagliarini, a financial adviser in California specializing in "sudden wealth" clients, says it's often possible to keep your identity secret (which he definitely advises) by setting up a trust or a company to receive the prize money.

Would anonymity prevent the curse even for huge jackpots? Dr. Norton and several other psychologists would like to join me in testing that hypothesis. But before the researchers can ask any questions, we have to find a sample of subjects.

We know you secret winners are out there. You have the power to disprove the curse of the lottery once and for all by writing me (or having your lawyer do it). We promise to protect your anonymity. And we swear we won't ask you to share the money.

NY Times

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40 comments. Last comment 2 years ago by BellasBMWLucki.
Page 1 of 3
mypiemaster's avatar - 2015021003pileofcash

United States
Member #141034
April 2, 2013
1368 Posts
Posted: May 27, 2014, 8:11 am - IP Logged

Unwanted or forced publicity, is the root of all lottery evils.

Seek and ye shall find -Matt. 7:7 ...Ask and ye shall receive -John 16:24 ...Give and it shall be given unto you -Luke 6:38 ...Be careful what you ask for!!! -Mypiemaster 1:1

Having Money Solves Problems That Not Having Money Creates Yes Nod ****John Carlton****

    New Member
    Buffalo, NY
    United States
    Member #113965
    July 20, 2011
    4 Posts
    Posted: May 27, 2014, 8:42 am - IP Logged

    Smile Don't tell anyone but your spouse sounds good on paper, but I live in New York. The first thing they do after cashing in a big ticket is plaster your name and face on every newspaper and local tv news show they can find!

      pickone4me's avatar - 021414tvlies zpsa453b327.jpg
      United States
      Member #104962
      January 23, 2011
      1075 Posts
      Posted: May 27, 2014, 8:52 am - IP Logged

      "The curse of the lottery was further debunked in a survey of more than 400 Swedish lottery winners by Anna Hedenus, a sociologist at the University of Gothenburg."

      Debunking has failed, since it wasn't done in the united states.

        pickone4me's avatar - 021414tvlies zpsa453b327.jpg
        United States
        Member #104962
        January 23, 2011
        1075 Posts
        Posted: May 27, 2014, 8:54 am - IP Logged

        A person could say no to talking to the moronic left-wing media.

          Gleno's avatar - Lottery-001.jpg
          New Jersey
          United States
          Member #80354
          September 25, 2009
          698 Posts
          Posted: May 27, 2014, 9:37 am - IP Logged

           Good to see some positive views and  advice on How to win the lottery happily. 

          If we have a disciplined life style,ie keeping our addictions under control, is very important. True happiness is never entirely found in wealth.

          We would be surprised to know that some of the wealthy also experience anxiety over their fortunes. This should be an interesting topic. 

          Thanks to Mr. Todd for presenting this column. 

          Sun Smiley

            Gleno's avatar - Lottery-001.jpg
            New Jersey
            United States
            Member #80354
            September 25, 2009
            698 Posts
            Posted: May 27, 2014, 9:38 am - IP Logged

            Right on mypiemaster. I Agree!

              dallascowboyfan's avatar - tiana the-princess-and-the-frog.jpg
              United States
              Member #82391
              November 12, 2009
              6272 Posts
              Posted: May 27, 2014, 10:34 am - IP Logged

              Anonymity for me.

              I Love Pink & Green 1908

                donnie713's avatar - Lottery-062.jpg
                South Euclid, Ohio
                United States
                Member #93139
                June 22, 2010
                36 Posts
                Posted: May 27, 2014, 10:40 am - IP Logged

                Good article, if I am lucky to win I would only tell my spouse.

                  pickone4me's avatar - 021414tvlies zpsa453b327.jpg
                  United States
                  Member #104962
                  January 23, 2011
                  1075 Posts
                  Posted: May 27, 2014, 11:32 am - IP Logged

                  I thought someone was trying to get rid of the open records law in wisconsin 

                  Would the below link cover the lottery?



                    United States
                    Member #136507
                    December 12, 2012
                    55 Posts
                    Posted: May 27, 2014, 11:45 am - IP Logged

                    Its not the people you don't know, its the people you do know; at least for me anyway. I didn't need a study to know all the stuff in this article. This article said everything I already figured out and am trying to do. I just need the money nowCool

                    But like everything in life there positives and negatives and for people it all depends on their circumstances. There is no heaven without a hell; for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction etc.

                    I know sure as h*** I would be a lot happier if I wasn't so stressed out with financial issues on the daily basis, I feel like I'm going crazy sometimes. The biggest negatives for me would be keeping it a secret from the very few people who know me.  Needless to say because of past issues with theses individuals I would not trust them if I ever won any money. I still interact with them sometimes and they still know me so yes that would be a problem. I don't know a lot of people though so that's a positive.

                    The other thing that is negative is dealing with all the money. Having to handle it and manage it will be a job in itself.  Where to put, all the people your going to have to start dealing with to handle the money; yea its sort of a headache sometimes.

                    But, with so much money you wouldn't have to go to work or ever worry about bills ever again. You would have enough money to do anything you pleased everyday. I still imagine a day where everything is settled and I'm sitting on the beach with hardly any issues. With a good book, my favorite snacks and drinks, and doing whatever I want. Sorry kind of went off on a tangent Embarassed

                    But sure, I would be happier. I know it and it hasn't happened yet. For an individual who never had much money to do anything, being able to finally do stuff I could because I didn't have enough would be wonderful.

                      psykomo's avatar - animal shark.jpg

                      United States
                      Member #4877
                      May 30, 2004
                      5021 Posts
                      Posted: May 27, 2014, 2:56 pm - IP Logged

                      DanceDupe AlertDance

                      Trust U Todd but, it's D lawyers don't trust anymore. When they know U have

                      sum money left, they always try squeeze U dry. Agree w/ Dr. Norton D psyko,

                      keep it secret (as long as possible) make no extravagant purchases, slowly

                      increase, "slowly" increase UR spending and drive a smart car>>>>>>>>>!!

                                                               Sun SmileySurrenderSun Smiley ......................................Thud

                        NightStalker's avatar - vina3
                        East of Columbus, OH
                        United States
                        Member #120843
                        December 28, 2011
                        447 Posts
                        Posted: May 27, 2014, 4:02 pm - IP Logged

                        Set up a trust and claim it anonymously.  That's the way.  Then change my phone numbers and email addresses.  Then an extended Hawaiian vacation to "sort things out". Cool

                        Life's Too Short To Be Unhappy Cool

                          RedStang's avatar - tallman zps6gf4inoc.jpg
                          United States
                          Member #121961
                          January 21, 2012
                          3157 Posts
                          Posted: May 27, 2014, 4:12 pm - IP Logged

                          Depends on the person. I know someone who retired early, has plenty of cash and is bored because his friends still have to work. Except for cooking he has no other hobbies. Fifty million would not make him happier.

                            Teddi's avatar - Lottery-008.jpg

                            United States
                            Member #142499
                            May 13, 2013
                            1164 Posts
                            Posted: May 27, 2014, 5:10 pm - IP Logged

                            Really don't think this study is all that helpful for big US jackpot winners. $250,000 - $1 million is enough to pay off student loans, credit cards, car payments etc., especially if there are no taxes to deal with, but not enough to have their names and faces plastered everywhere so they get hounded for life. Not to mention that relatives/friends wouldn't expect large handouts. 

                            When they do a study of people who have won $50 million or more, those results would be more telling. $250,000 is enough to ease most or all pressing financial matters for any middle-class American, but not enough to trigger a drastic change in lifestyle, so I would definitely expect those people to show an increase in happiness. i.e. the stress of debt is gone but it isn't enough to make extravagant purchases that can trigger jealousy among non-immediate family members. I'm not seeing how anyone could NOT be happier under those circumstances.

                            Not to mention neither the UK nor Sweden is as litigious as the U.S. That's a big factor. The amount of the win and the country in which the study takes place would need to be factored in. And after watching that ESPN documentary 'Broke', I'm willing to bet gender roles will come into play as well.