Winning the lottery won't make you happy

This might sound counter intuitive - but hear us out...

Ireland has a new multi-millionaire after an Irish ticket landed last night's €88.5m Euromillions jackpot.

No one has stepped forward yet to claim the prize. The National Lottery's advertising campaigns sell us visions of a non-stop Caribbean holiday if we are fortunate enough to nab a lucky ticket - would that really make you happy?

Counter intuitive as it may seem, there's a body of research which says that winning the lotto doesn't actually make people happier.

A landmark study in 1978 explored the effect that a big financial windfall can have on your happiness levels.

Researchers at Northwestern University and the University of Massachusetts gathered a group of Lotto winners and a group who had experienced catastrophic injuries which left them paraplegic or quadriplegic.

Participants were asked to rate the level of enjoyment that they got out of everyday activities such as a chat with a friend, watching TV or having breakfast. They found that the group who had been injured got more satisfaction out of their day-to-day lives.


But the most interesting thing about their research is that the two reported very similar happiness levels (averages of 3.48 and 3.33 out of 5). This adds to a growing body of research which suggests that after life altering events such as a lotto win or serious accident, people generally return to a baseline level of happiness.

The highs and lows provoked by these shocks last about six months. When our economic (or other life) circumstances change we adapt to them. This process, called habituation, means that we quickly get used to our new lot and start to think differently about what makes us happy.

As Elite Daily puts it, this mental process "ensures that you’re never too depressed or too happy for too long. No feeling, negative or positive, lasts forever."

The authors of the report note, "Eventually, the thrill of winning the lottery will itself wear off. If all things are judged by the extent to which they depart from a baseline of past experience, gradually even the most positive events will cease to have impact as they themselves are absorbed into the new baseline against which further events are judged."

They add that lesser pleasures make us less happy relative to winning the lotto, "Contrast with the peak experience of winning should lessen the impact of ordinary pleasures, while habituation should eventually reduce the value of new pleasures made possible by winning.