Would Life Really Be Much Better if You Won the Lottery?

Posted on July 31, 2017

We’ve all, perhaps, at one point or another in our life dreamt about hitting the jackpot. Getting a large sum of money means no more stressing about money and an improvement in our life. Right? Research on happiness has shown that this may not be the case.

A study that has been repeated many times asks lottery winners to estimate their happiness at several time points - before they won the lottery, immediately after, a month, six months and several years after that. Responses showed that most of the winners returned to the same level of happiness they were at before striking gold.

Researchers found that there is a set point for happiness in humans. When something major happens in our life – whether good or bad, our level of happiness may go up or down. However, the happiness will return to its set point. This set point for happiness is also called hedonic adaptation. Research has shown that a person’s set point stays the same throughout life.

Robert Puff, a clinical psychologist, uses delicious food as an example. The food tastes amazing the first time we have it, but we may find it repulsive if we eat too much of it. In relation to happiness, we may find something that makes us happy and gives us a temporary boost, but we will adapt hedonically. Puff gives another example of a man being thrilled with his new car, but gets used to it after a while, bringing him back to his set point. This pattern follows for any subsequent purchases of “better” cars. We may have experienced this before in different ways – for example, after getting the job you really want, a new house or the latest iPhone. We will fall back to our set point because of hedonistic adaption, and our happiness does not actually change.

This does not mean we should stop setting goals but rather, enjoy the process towards reaching it. Puff also mentions that we can use our knowledge of hedonic adaption to ascertain if a goal is worth the time and energy. A more expensive home with a higher monthly payment may not be worth the effort if the happiness of getting it will only be temporary.

Knowing about hedonistic adaption helps us re-evaluate our priorities in life. There is a greater importance placed on enjoying the process towards getting our goal. It can also be used as a guide to how we want to spend our resources, that is, our money, time and energy.


Source material from Psychology Today

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