November 28, 2012
Can money buy happiness? If you’re clutching several Powerball tickets in one hand as you thumb through yacht and pony catalogs with the other, you’re probably betting yes.
We’re all told the odds of winning are abysmal — about 1 in 175 million — but let’s assume you win the $500 million jackpot. Experts say the initial euphoria will wear off relatively quickly and you’ll be left with pretty much the same dismal outlook on life you’ve always had.
“Winning will release some pleasurable chemicals in your brain over the short term,” said Scott Bea, a clinical psychologist with the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. “Unfortunately, your brain will likely revert back to the same old same old before too long.”
Bea conceded that the extra bushels of cash would ease any anxiety over paying the bills, and you’d probably get an additional rush of those joy-boosting neuro-hormones when you went on a shopping spree, but ultimately the basal ganglia, the part of your brain that tends to dwell on the negative, will kick in and you’ll be back to your usual miserable self in no time.
Why? Because in its dark little heart, the brain is a pessimistic organ. Studies show bad memories tend to be far stickier than pleasant memories. And as Bea pointed out, complaints are the topic of nearly 70 percent of all conversation. So according to this logic, you’re less likely to relive the glory of your jackpot moment than you are to grouse about all the fifth cousins suddenly friending you on Facebook to ask for a handout.
Bea also said big winners who aren’t careful to cultivate happiness skills such as optimism, a charitable attitude and savvy money management habits often wind up in more wretched circumstances than where they started. History is certainly littered with such examples.
Back in the 1980s, Evelyn Adams won the New Jersey lottery not once, but twice. She quickly gambled away all $5.4 million and today she’s flat broke, living in a trailer park. Then there’s Billy Bob Harrell Jr. a Pentecostal preacher who was working as a stock boy in 1997 when he scored a cool $31 million in the Texas lottery. The stress of winning so overwhelmed him that he divorced his wife and committed suicide.
Does this mean you should hope the odds work against you when they draw those lucky numbers at 10:59 ET tonight? According to Bea, not at all.
“For most people, purchasing a ticket and fantasizing about what life will be like once you’ve won is the most pleasant part of the lottery experience,” he said, “You could probably flush the same amount of money down the toilet and get much the same result — but then you wouldn’t have the dream.”