Lottery winners and accident victims: Is happiness relative?

Psychologists from Northwestern University here in Chicago published a study called “Lottery Winners and Accident Victims: Is Happiness Relative?” back when the Illinois State Lottery had just begun in the ’70s. The researchers asked 22 winners to rate their happiness months after the initial elation of winning the big bucks. In addition, they asked the winners how much pleasure they were taking in mundane activities like reading a magazine or meeting friends for coffee. Then they interviewed people who lived in the same neighborhoods as the winners but hadn’t won the lottery. The results showed that months after the winners were announced, the non-winners were just about as happy as the lottery winners. The so-called losers were finding much more pleasure in everyday activities than the winners were.

Whitney and me: a picture of happiness

The researchers also interviewed people who were paralyzed in accidents that same lottery year. Their research found that after initial sadness, the people who were paralyzed rated their pleasure in everyday activities slightly higher than that of the lottery winners. Their life satisfaction was nearly the same. Interesting.

It’s Monday. After I finish the cup of coffee my husband Mike made for me this morning, I’ll flip on the radio and listen to some classic pop music while I feel through the shoes in my closet for my sandals. Ben Folds? Jackson Five? The Police? Stevie Wonder? From there I’ll head outside with my Seeing Eye dog Whitney. It’s a warm, sunny, summer morning in Chicago. Maybe we’ll take the long way home, listen for birds, smell the flowering trees.

Back in the apartment, I’ll spend a few hours on my job for Easter Seals – I do most of my blog work from my talking laptop here at home. Then time to shower, dress, and head to the nearest stop with Whitney to catch a bus to head to the memoir-writing class I lead in nearby Lincoln Park.

I’ll feed my Seeing Eye dog when we get back, then maybe I’ll listen to a book while waiting for Mike to get home from work.
I’m re-reading my favorite book from childhood, one my older brothers and sisters read aloud to me when they were teaching me to read: The Adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh.

After my trip to the 100 Acre Wood? Off to Costco! I’ll hang on to the back of the cart, eavesdrop on people from all walks of life, try to decipher the dozens of foreign languages I hear, all while Mike pulls us through the aisles. He’ll stop periodically, say “Feel this!” and drop an enormous oversized jar of some unknown substance into my hands. “Miracle Whip!” he’ll exclaim with glee. I always roll my eyes, but I can’t help but laugh, too. And I can’t help but relish, ahem, the $1.50 hot dog and pop we enjoy before we leave. Free refills, too!

After unloading the Land of the Giants groceries at home, we might slink over to Hackney’s to share some wine with friends: Mondays are half-price bottle nights. Who wouldn’t think they’d won the lottery after a day like today? And I didn’t even have to buy a ticket!


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  1. T. E. Vogel Says:

    I just received a donation solicitation addressed to Ms. Minnie C. Vogel in Virginia Beach. I regret to inform you that a) she passed away in 1998, and b) she never lived in this state, and I have lived at five addresses between then and now. Therefore, you are using extremely messed up mailing lists, which must be an extreme waste of money that you receive. You need not come to my door to personally thank me.

  2. Heather Thalheimer Says:

    Happiness is an interesting thing. I loved the post because it shows that happiness is closer than you think!

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