The Mega Millions jackpot reached a record high of $500 million today, news which has no doubt led to a rash of half-serious ticket-buying by normally judicious spenders. They, along with the rest of the regular scratchers, shouldn’t hold out much hope: The odds of winning the lottery, Mega Millions officials report, are about one in 176 million. (But that’s what makes it so special.) Still, someone has to win, and it’s worth knowing: Does winning the lottery actually make you happier?
In what should come as great news to the millions who will fail to win the lottery every year, it does not. In a seminal 1978 study on the subject, psychologists from Northwestern and the University of Massachusetts tested the happiness of three groups: lottery winners, non-lottery winners, and non-lottery winning paraplegic accident victims. When asked how happy they felt in general, winners' and non-winners’ answers were not statistically different; victims were slightly less happy. But when asked to rate the pleasure they took in mundane activities, like watching television, talking with a friend, or receiving a compliment, both the non-winners and the victims were happier than the lottery winners. The researchers chalk this up to two factors. One, winning the lottery sets a new baseline for happiness, rendering winners unable to enjoy the simple pleasures they used to ("contrast"). Two, winners simply get used to having more money after a while ("habituation"). Disclaimer: More money could still make you happier—we’ll leave that to another study.