Do you want to be happy? Buy a lottery ticket

I was intrigued by an academic study published last week that looked at why the lottery makes people happy, despite the fact they are actually aware that the odds of winning are pretty much against them. From a financial point, it surely makes no sense. As the American satirist Ambrose Bierce once said, “The lottery is a tax on people who are bad at math.”

Yet, lottery play proves to be the most popular form of gambling, and millions of people participate in that. According to the study, the sales in the European lottery sector in 2015 amounted to €80 billion. During the financial year 2017/18, South-Africans spent R1.626 billion on playing the lottery.

The aim of the study was to understand why people play the lottery even though they realise their chances of winning are rather slim. The findings were quite surprising. It seems that it’s not the winning that made people happier. What made people happier was the expectation leading up to the draw – those dreams of ‘what if? Then, as soon as the draw was over, their happiness also disappeared, and they needed to buy another lottery ticket to achieve the same high.

These findings got me thinking:

Clearly, the aim of catchy lottery slogans, like “Dream the Impossible Dream”, “Mission possible”, “Making the Impossible a Reality” or “ Give Yourself the Gift of a Dream”, is to get people to imagine a life of new possibilities and freedom – a life that is totally different from the one they may feel they are currently trapped in. Here’s a thought: what if it is not so much about winning or even the money itself, but that the prospect of winning the lottery creates a sense of excitement because it will provide them with an opportunity to escape from whatever it is that makes life difficult for them? If that is true, the better question then would be, what are they trying to escape from? Most of us at some stage in our life also dream or imagine us having all the money we need. And the same question is begging. What are we trying to escape from believing it is only possible when we have enough money?
To end something, or leave something or someone behind implies change. Not only do we fear change, but we also make winning the lottery or having some money a condition, before we even consider making those changes. The result is that we do not take any action. We wait. The only action we take is to buy another ticket or become fixated on where we are going to find the money.
If we feel trapped, money as such should not be an excuse for not making the necessary changes in our lives. We need to overcome our fear of change and make the changes, with whatever means we have available. Even if it is just small steps. It is not a good idea to put our lives on hold until we win the lottery or obtain a substantial amount of money. That is simply giving our power away. As always, it is our choice. We can choose to repeat the pattern endlessly: dream about a lot of money coming our way that will change our lives, get excited, but actually stay trapped, or we can take action and set ourselves free by following the inner compass of our own True North.

“I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.” Jim Carrey