Science Behind the Factoid: Lottery Winners Are No Happier Than Quadriplegics

Here’s a frequently repeated, counterintuitive factoid: people who win large sums in the lottery are no happier, over time, than people who become paralyzed in traumatic accidents. This “fact” comes from Brickman et al’s 1978 paper called Lottery Winners and Accident Victims: Is Happiness Relative? The researchers interviewed 22 major lottery winners, 22 randomly selected controls from the same area, and 29 paraplegics and quadriplegics who had suffered the injury in the recent past. The lottery winners had won sums ranging from $300,000 (more than a million in 2013 dollars) to $1,000,000. Here are some of the results:

Happiness lottery study

The respondents rated their happiness and their enjoyment of everyday pleasures such as hearing a good joke or receiving a compliment on a scale from 1 to 5, where 5 was the happiest. As you can see, lottery winners were not significantly happier than controls. They also derived significantly less pleasure from everyday events.

Read more about the breakthrough study on the relationship between happiness and winning the lottery.