RTE reports on the Dublin winner of Saturday's 16 million euro lottery jackpot. Will it make him more happy? Everything in the fiber of my being tells me that I would be happier for a long time if I suddenly had an extra sixteen million euro. But the literature really doesn't back this up in a general sense. I am sure we would get a lot of volunteers if we set out to do a randomised trial on this effect. The most famous paper on this area is from 1978 and showed that people who won the lottery and people who were rendered paraplegic by an accident initially experienced big changes in well-being in the expected direction and then converged back to their base levels. This is in line with a big literature arguing that well-being is set to a fixed point determined by genetics, upbringing, disposition etc., and that it is not very malleable to changes in external factors like income. People like Kahneman and others have argued that the focusing illusion effect might come into play when we think of what life would be like after some external change. For example, the linked paper shows that people think they would be happier if they lived in California (nice weather etc.,) but, in fact, Californian's are no happier than New Yorkers (same working stresses etc.,). We think it would be nicer to live in California because we focus on the nice weather. A more recent paper asks the question "would you be happier if you were richer?" again arguing that people overfocus on the benefits of money when making counterfactual judgments. People like Daniel Gilbert have talked about affective misforecasting where we mispredict how good or bad we will feel consequent on life changes, in particular that we will overestimate how long we will have a change in well-being consequent on a change in circumstances (see a TED Talk here). Mark linked to a recent paper by Kahneman and Deaton using the global Gallup data, showing that income has a much bigger effect on life satisfaction than emotional well-being. So in other words, if we ask the man in a year's time how satisfied he is with his life, we might expect him to be more satisfied but if we look at how he feels on a day-to-day basis then we might not see much change. Of course, most of the papers in the literature deal with levels of income rather than sudden once-off increases in income. It might be the case that the exertions that a helicopter drop of money place on the self-control of the winners may reduce well-being effects, particularly if the people have no experience of managing the various complexities both social and financial that accompany their new-found wealth.
One thing that should certainly be explored is whether rollover jackpots should be split using some mechanism. For example, why not 16 prizes of one million? One for another post.