Why lottery winnings don’t always lead to happiness

Story at a glance

  • Winning the lottery may increase a person’s life satisfaction and remain that way for decades to come. 

  • An increase in happiness isn’t as certain, with research showing lottery winners showing little to no improvement there. 

  • Researchers say happiness is subjective and is interpreted differently from person to person. 

Receiving a massive influx of cash may seem like instant gratification but research has shown that winning a lottery may increase life satisfaction but may not impact general happiness. 

The odds of winning a Mega Millions jackpot is one in 303 million — while the odds of winning at least $1 million are about 1 in 12.6 million. 

For the lucky few who do manage to snag a winning ticket, they will likely experience an increase in life satisfaction that can persist for over a decade, with no evidence of that decreasing over time.  

However, the effect on a person’s happiness and mental health after winning a lottery is more mixed, with research showing increases are usually smaller and not statistically significant. 

Those are findings that researchers from New York University and Stockholm University in Sweden came to after studying over 400 people who had won lotteries in Sweden from 1998 to 2011.  

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“We find that winning large sums of money strongly affects how content you are with your personal finances. But it does not affect how you feel about other aspects of life, such as your health, or your relationships with friends and family,” said Erik Lindqvist, one of the researchers behind the study. 

Lindqvist’s team found clear evidence that wealth improves people’s evaluation of their lives as a whole— suggesting that improved financial circumstances is an important component behind increasing people’s life satisfaction.  

Happiness is notably different, as researchers explained that it’s a concept that differs in interpretation from person to person. 

“Exactly how people evaluate their happiness we cannot know, but I would think that it is strongly related to how they feel at the moment. To be satisfied with your life, on the other hand, is perhaps more about having what you think you can demand of life,” said Lindqvist. 

An infusion of cash may help people with their personal finances, but it may not affect how they feel about other aspects of their life, like health or relationships with friends and family. 

Some of the first research conducted on lottery winners was published back in 1978 and that also found no statistically significant differences between lottery winners and non-winners in terms of happiness. 

However, to the average American it may still be tempting to test out one’s luck — especially after the Mega Millions jackpot hit $1.025 billion, the fourth-largest prize in U.S. lottery history. The next drawing is scheduled for Friday. 

Just last year, a lottery ticket purchased in Michigan led four people to win $1.05 billion. The largest Mega Million jackpot ever won in U.S. history was sold in South Carolina in 2018 and totaled $1.537 billion.