Winning the money lottery and happiness


Published: 27-05-2022

Do you play Lotto because you hope to win and become happier? Then not only do you spend a lot of money on a game where you can win with a probability of 1 to 14 million, but even if you do win, you probably won’t get happier anyway.

Three researchers (Brickman, Coates, & Janoff-Bulman, 1978) once examined the life satisfaction of paralyzed accident victims, winners of the main prize money in cash lotteries (from $ 50,000 to $ 1 million) and a control group, i.e. randomly selected people who didn’t have significant negative or positive event in the last 6 months. They found that the cash prize winners and the control group had the same overall sense of happiness, and moreover, those who won the lotteries were even less able to enjoy simple, mundane events such as talking to a friend, getting a compliment or buying new clothes. Paralyzed people assessed their current lives less positively than these two groups, but when all three groups were asked how they saw their lives in a few years, no differences were found between them. Accident victims, award winners and the control group were just as optimistic about their future lives.

The results of this study illustrate two phenomena related to happiness: the negativity effect and the phoenix effect. The negativity effect is that our well-being is more influenced by negative events than positive ones. For example, an increase in income has a much less impact on happiness than a decrease in income has on a feeling of unhappiness. Giving birth to a child brings less happiness than losing a child brings unhappiness. Even in rats you can see this effect. If you reduce a bait, that a rat is following, it will run slower for a time than individuals that started with a small bait. However, increasing the bait does not induce the opposite behavior. Increasing the amount of food in the bait causes the animal to run gently faster, and after a few tries, its speed is the same as for the rats that were given the larger bait from the beginning. Thus, reducing the bait causes a negative contrast effect: rats for some time behave as if their bait was even smaller than rats that had a small bait from the beginning, while increasing the bait did not cause such a contrast (Czapiński, 1988 as cited in: Czapiński, 2001).

The phoenix effect, on the other hand, is based on the rebirth of a feeling of happiness after strongly negative events. An accident resulting in permanent disability is a major shock and causes a significant drop in life satisfaction, but for most people it is a temporary decrease. This effect has also been noticed in cancer patients (Taylor, 1983). Most people suffering from neoplastic diseases return to their mental balance and regain satisfaction with life after a few or several months from the diagnosis. Such people reevaluate their lives and start enjoying it again. Many of them claim that through their illness they have learned to enjoy the moment, found out that they are strong people, and understood the importance of having close relationships with people.

Overall, it can be seen that a positive change in life satisfaction depends more on internal factors, and a negative change on external factors. An exemplary external factor is a salary cut or a salary increase, which is why we are more worried about the cut than we are happy about the raise. Improvement of well-being, on the other hand, depends more on internal factors, i.e. on our thoughts, expectations, etc., therefore people who can find positive aspects of the disease regain a sense of satisfaction with life. So if you want to be happy, don’t play Lotto, but change your outlook on life.


  1. Brickman, P., Coates, D., Janoff-Bulman, R. (1978). Lottery winners and accident victims: Is happiness relative? Journal od Personality and Social Psychology, 36(8), 917-927.
  2. Czapiński, J. (2001). Szczęście – złudzenie czy konieczność? Cebulowa teoria szczęścia w świetle nowych danych empirycznych. w: M. Kofta, T. Szustrowa (red.), Złudzenia, które pozwalają żyć (wyd. 2, s. 266-306). Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN.
  3. Taylor, S. E. (1983). Adjustement to threatening events: A theory of cognitive adaptations. American Psychologist, 1161-1173.

Author: Maja Kochanowska

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