Is Happiness a Lottery?

How happy are you? And to what extent would this be affected if you suffered a serious injury, or won a million pounds on the lottery? On a scale of 0 (not at all) to 5 (very much) how happy do you feel…

(a) generally at this stage of your life?

(b) when chatting with a friend?

(c) when watching TV?

(d) when laughing at a joke?

Photo via Wikimedia Commons, User: Zeng8r

Amongst the general public (controls), the mean scores for both the general happiness and everyday-pleasure items were 3.8. The more interesting aspect of this classic psychology study (from 1978) is the set of scores given by recent lottery winners, all of whom had won at least $50,000 (several, $1 million) and by people who had recently been involved in a serious accident, resulting in a neck or spinal cord injury. Surprisingly, the lottery winners rated themselves no higher on general happiness than the controls (the accident victims did score lower for current general happiness, but gave similar scores to controls when asked to estimate their future happiness). Furthermore, the lottery winners rated the everyday activities less pleasant than the controls, presumably because these small pleasures paled in comparison to the recent pleasure hit of winning the lottery. So if you have yet to check last night’s lottery ticket, the lesson is clear: be careful what you wish for.

Brickman, P., Coates, D., & Janoff-Bulman, R. (1978). Lottery winners and accident victims: Is happiness relative?. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology36(8), 917-927.

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