Couple wins the lottery twice, but will it make them happy?

Double trouble. Lynne Cameron/PA

Earlier this week, a British couple (David and Kathleen Long from Scunthorpe) beat unbelievable odds of 283-billion-to-one to win a second £1m prize on the EuroMillions lottery. Many of us dream about winning large life-changing amounts of money on games like Lotto. But does winning huge sums of money makes us happier and healthier?

I reviewed the scientific studies and found that lottery winners are euphoric very briefly before they settle back to their normal level of happiness or unhappiness. This is because happiness is relative. There is a popular belief by some psychologists that in the long run, winning large amounts of money on gambling activities will not make someone happy. Researchers who study happiness say that everyone has a certain level of happiness that stays relatively constant but can be changed by particular events that make the person happy or sad.

Thankfully, this change only lasts for a short period of time. For instance, if someone is a generally happy person and a close relative dies, research shows that after a few months or so, the person will go back to the same happiness level that they were previously. However, this works the other way too. If a person is not very happy in their day-to-day life, they could win a large amount of money gambling and they would probably be happy for a couple months but then they would “level out” and go back to life at their normal unhappiness level.

Back in 1978, Phillip Brickman and his colleagues compared a sample of 22 major lottery winners with 22 controls and also with a group of 29 paralysed accident victims (as they had experienced one of the worst things in life). They found that major lottery winners were no happier than control groups.

Another 1994 study investigated 261 Norwegian lottery winners who had won more than one million Norwegian Krone (approximately £100,000). There were few typical emotional reactions to winning apart from moderate happiness and relief. Their gambling was modest both before and after winning the lottery and their experiences with winning were almost all positive. The researchers reported that their quality of life was stable or had improved. They concluded that their results support earlier research that found lottery winners are not gamblers, but self-controlled realists.

Half full or half empty? David Jones/PA

Mo’ money …

One of the infamous questions in social science is whether money makes people happy. In 2001, a longitudinal study on the psychological health and happiness of approximately 9,000 randomly chosen people found that people who received financial windfalls (by and large gambling wins or receiving an inheritance) had higher mental well-being in the following year.

In another study on a random sample of Britons who received medium-sized lottery wins of between £1,000 and £120,000, the same authors compared lottery winners with two control groups (one with no gambling wins and the other with small gambling wins). They reported that big lottery winners went on to exhibit significantly better psychological health.

Other lottery winner data has also been analysed by Benedict Apouey and Andrew Clark who also found increased health benefits among lottery winners when compared to non-lottery winners. However, they also showed that lottery winners also drank and smoked more socially than non-lottery winners.

Life-changing windfalls

On a more practical day-to-day level, most of the research on big winners has shown that their lives are much better as a result of their life-changing wins but there are always a few winners who find other problems occur as a result of their instant wealth.

They may give up their jobs and move to a more luxurious house in another area. This can lead to a loss of close friends from both the local neighbourhood and from their workplace. There can also be family tensions and arguments over the money and there is always the chance that winners will be bombarded with requests for money from every kind of cause or charity.

There are also case reports of people who become depressed after winning life-changing amounts of money. However, despite potential problems, most of the psychological research (perhaps unsurprisingly) indicates that winners are glad they won.

But not everything changes. One large study of 1,163 lottery winners in the USA showed that the vast majority of lottery winners (63%) carried on working in the same job after their big win, with a further 11% carrying on working part-time in the same job after their big win.

The average amount won by those who carried on working was US$2.59 million. This appears to show that winning the lottery does not necessarily lead to a change of lifestyle for the vast majority of winner.

Overall, research into the effects of big jackpots on human behaviour has been relatively sparse. The research that has been carried out suggests that the overwhelming majority of huge jackpot winners do not suffer negatively as a result of winning.