Scientists say winning the lottery does make people feel better about life — even though decades of evidence suggests otherwise

Matt Cardy/GettyWinning the lottery could be just as life-changing as you imagine it would be.
  • Lottery winners in Sweden are more satisfied with life than those who lost the lottery, says a new study by scientists in Sweden and the US.
  • What’s more, that boost in satisfaction doesn’t fade over time, according to the study.
  • Previous studies have found that winning the lottery doesn’t ultimately change our life satisfaction or happiness.
  • It’s probably best to rely on things other than money – like close relationships – for health and happiness.

Social scientists spend a lot of time thinking about all the ways your life might be different if you came into a massive fortune. Not just about whether you’d be able to buy a fancy house and car – but also about how you’d feel about your new financial prowess.

Over the past few decades, multiple studies have suggested that your day-to-day experience wouldn’t change much at all, and that the excitement of striking gold would, eventually, wear off. But a new working paper comes to a different conclusion, reporting that winning the lottery, as compared to losing, really does lead to greater life satisfaction.

The research was cited in The New York Times by Justin Wolfers, an economist who has conducted other research on the link between income and life satisfaction. The study hasn’t yet been peer-reviewed or published in a scientific journal.

For the study, scientists in Sweden and the US surveyed 3,362 lottery players (winners and losers) about their well-being between five and 22 years after the lottery drawing. Respondents were asked about their happiness, overall life satisfaction, mental health, and financial life satisfaction.

Results showed that winning the lottery had a positive effect on all these outcomes – especially on life satisfaction. Most interestingly, these effects didn’t dissipate over time, with the exception of financial life-satisfaction.

It’s important to note that the study relied on surveys, meaning there was no objective measure: Respondents themselves indicated how satisfied they were with their lives. What’s more, other research has yielded different conclusions.

Other studies have found that winning the lottery doesn’t ultimately change our life satisfaction

Previous studies have found that winning the lottery doesn’t have a significant effect on life satisfaction.

Business Insider’s Kevin Loria reported on two studies that found lottery winners end up about as happy as they were before their big win. That’s possibly due to a phenomenon called hedonic adaptation, which means we have a set point for happiness, and return to it even after major life events like winning the lottery, Loria reported.

Meanwhile, other research suggests that the amount of money required to be happy and satisfied with life (beyond just lottery winnings) is surprisingly small. Business Insider’s Jeremy Berke reported on a study published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, which found that, globally, the ideal income for life satisfaction is about $US95,000. For emotional well-being, it’s roughly between $US60,00 and $US75,000.

If there’s a single takeaway here, it’s that you’d be unwise to rely on money to make you happy or satisfied. After all, even if you stand by these new findings, your chances of winning the lottery are slim. Instead, focus on deepening relationships with friends and family and getting some exercise – old standbys that most scientists agree are linked to health and happiness.

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