What can the state lottery teach us about how to deal with the fiscal cliff? Quite a bit, actually.
Last month, two families in Missouri and Arizona had their dreams come true when they shared the largest Powerball lottery jackpot in history: $587 million. “We are truly blessed,” one of the winners told the press.
Perhaps. People always imagine all the nice things that would happen to them if they won the lottery: They would travel more, buy a beautiful home, start a foundation or quit a tiresome job. Rarely do people say, “If I won the lottery, I’d marry somebody who doesn’t love me, buy a bunch of things I don’t really want, and then start an ugly alcoholic spiral.”
But hitting the jackpot generally leads to unhappiness. A famous 1978 study of major lottery winners in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology showed that while the winners experienced an immediate happiness boost right after winning, it didn’t last. Within a few months, their happiness levels receded to where they had been before winning. As time passed, they found they were actually less happy than they had been before winning.