Visions of winning the lottery are enough to turn just about anyone into a dreamer who fantasizes about helping family members, starting charities, and—of course—buying a few nice cars and homes. But a 2006 study published in the Journal of Health Economics found that while lottery winners experience extreme happiness after winning, their happiness levels return to pre-lottery levels not long after.
For some lottery winners, winning the jackpot leads to utter misery. Bankruptcies, divorce, family troubles, and mental health issues including suicidal ideation sometimes come along with winning the lottery; many winners have met disastrous or tragic ends. How can a dream come true turn so rapidly into a nightmare?
Statistically speaking, happy life events such as the birth of a baby, a new marriage, or buying a house are among the most stressful experiences a person can have. Lifestyle changes require rapid adjustments, personality alterations, and negotiation of new boundaries and relationships with loved ones.
The lottery is no different. Going from rags to riches overnight can be overwhelming. Not only must a lottery winner plan for what to do with the money, he or she must negotiate changed relationships with friends and family, the challenges of a new lifestyle, and the potential boredom that comes with no longer working. People are vulnerable to depression and anxiety during major life changes, and the lottery may ignite a cascade of negative psychological and interpersonal events.
Low-income people are more likely to play the lottery than other groups; some analysts have even argued that the lottery functions as a “tax on the poor.” People who are unaccustomed to balancing complex budgets may be ill-prepared for the financial demands that come with winning the lottery. A $100 million jackpot might sound like a lot, but when it’s split between 20 relatives, a dozen charities, 10 new cars, and five houses, it’s not what it’s cracked up to be. Predatory financial planners may also prey on lottery winners, taking large commissions in exchange for poor or nonexistent advice.
The moment a lottery winner wins, the phone starts ringing. Charities, friends, family members, and political causes all want a piece of the action. The price of saying no can be costly, particularly among family members who don’t understand why deep-pocketed lottery winners can’t finance their dreams—or at least their basics. Relationships may be left permanently broken, and the constant demands from strangers and loved ones can be crushing.
Unlike people who build businesses or even inherit their money from successful parents, lottery winners might not be readily welcomed into the club of the super rich, and they may be derided as simply lucky. A lottery winner who dreams of building a charity or a new business might be questioned about his or her competence. Jealousy over winnings can cause people to say hurtful, mean-spirited things, and a lottery winner might spend the rest of his or her life hearing that the good fortune is not deserved. Pressure in the form of stress, anxiety, guilt, and self-image issues can add up.
- Adams, S. (2012, November 28). Why winning Powerball won’t make you happy. Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/susanadams/2012/11/28/why-winning-powerball-wont-make-you-happy/
- Doll, J. (2012, March 30). A treasury of terribly sad stories of lottery winners. The Atlantic Wire. Retrieved from http://www.theatlanticwire.com/national/2012/03/terribly-sad-true-stories-lotto-winners/50555/
- Spector, D., Lubin, G., & Kelley, M. (n.d.). 18 signs that the lottery is preying on America’s poor. Business Insider. Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/lottery-is-a-tax-on-the-poor-2012-4?op=1
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