Tag Archives: El Gordo

The lottery of happiness

Who hasn’t dreamt of it? Spending a couple of euros on a lottery ticket to win an amazing prize. Probably you, like everybody else, have fantasised what you’d do with a million euros. Maybe you would buy a nice villa, buy a Porsche and a Bentley, or make a big trip to Brazil. Or donate some money to charity, of course.

Most of us are aware that the chance of winning a lottery is minimal. That’s why lotteries are also called a tax on stupidity. But still, speak to the villagers of Leganes who won  a combined €360 million in ‘El Gordo’, the fat one, Spain’s annual Christmas lottery. Or to the inhabitants in Vrouwenpolder, a village of barely 1000 people who won €42,9 million in a Dutch lottery just before Christmas.

Some ecards lottery

Source: www.someecards.com

But let’s ask another question: would winning the lottery make you happier? Large sums of money definitely make your life easier. But that big house and Porsche don’t make you happy. There are plenty of newspaper stories around of lottery winners who get completely crazy and change their lives for the worse. Take Keith Gough, who started with the purchase of a new home and a box in the stadium of his favourite football team after a 9 million pounds win in 2005. But then he started drinking, ended up losing his wife, and met a bandit in rehab tricking him into ‘deals’ that lost him his wealth. The story ends in 2010, when Gough dies of a heart attack caused by stress and drinking. And he’s just one – Time even has made a full gallery of them.

This is not just anecdotal evidence. Scientific studies confirm that large sums of money generally do not suddenly change our lives for the better. A seminal study, undertaken in 1978 by Brickman et al. surveyed the happiness level of lottery winners and people who had ended up in a wheel chair one year after the event. Their surprising conclusion was that there was no measurable effect on happiness level

A 2008 study of the Dutch postcode lottery – the same one in which Vrouwenpolder’s millions were won – found  a similar result. Though families had changed some of their life patterns (building a car or rebuilding their house, going to restaurants more often), this had no effect on their happiness.

This is due to a very simple psychological phenomenon: adaptation. Once our situation changes, we very easily adapt to the new reality of our lives. Suppose you are always dreaming of a big house with a pool. Once you have it, at a certain point in time it becomes normal – and it fails to make you happy. Somewhat fortunately, this process of adaptation also applies to negative events, such as losing the ability to walk.

So if you unfortunately win the lottery, what should you do? Their are various recipes for happiness. The most important though is to spend your money on experiences, rather than on material things. Spend your money on a vacation, go visit your friends in far away cities. Even if the experience is short, a good memory can live for a long time.

So what would I do if I won a lottery? I probably wouldn’t change my life that much. I’d keep working, I’d probably wouldn’t move houses and I’d keep this blog. I’d spend some money traveling – seeing Costa Rica and Bhutan. But most likely, you don’t give a damn!