answer? No. Here’s why.
A famed 1978
study by Philip
Brickman, Dan Coates, and Ronnie Janoff-Bulman at NorthWestern University and the University of
Massachusetts indicated that people who win the lottery immediately experience
a surge in happiness, yet soon experience a gradual return to their previous happiness
homeostasis. Lottery winners evidently
drifted back to the same level of happiness that they experienced before their
lottery win because of a phenomenon called the ‘hedonic treadmill’. According
to the researchers, “the thrill of winning the lottery will itself wear off” as
the winners become accustomed to the pleasures made possible by their new
more shocking than the finding that happiness isn’t a guarantee when winning
the lottery is the study’s second finding: that when measuring the happiness
levels of individuals who had experienced a significant trauma in their life
(becoming a quadriplegic), happiness levels significantly decreased immediately
after the accident, but nearly balanced to their previous pre-accident levels
of happiness shortly thereafter. Major life events such as winning the lottery
or becoming paralyzed may have relatively little impact on a person’s overall
happiness throughout their lifetime.
So, what could
possibly be better than the lottery than increasing a person’s happiness?
As it turns out,
the answer is community.
relationships are both powerful and consistent in their ability to increase
positive feelings. When individuals derive happiness from close relationships
(rather than from winning a massive monetary prize), they are more likely to
continue to derive happiness from their relationships on an ongoing basis. In a 2002 study by positive psychology
pioneers Edward Diener and Martin Seligman at the University of Illinois, the
most salient characteristics shared by the students with the highest levels of
happiness were strong ties to family and friends, and commitment to spending
time with them. "Word needs to be
spread," writes Diener, "It is important to work on social skills,
close interpersonal ties and social support in order to be happy."
Why are social
relationships so significant to happiness? Communities provide a sense of
identity and purpose: belonging to a group may help individuals to understand
who they are, and allow them to feel that they are a part of something larger
than themselves. As a result of the happiness boost that occurs when social
relationships are strong, individuals who develop strong social connections
experience fewer physical ailments, fewer mental health diagnoses, and
increased resilience from trauma or illness.
James H. Fowler analyzed data of 5,000 individuals over a 20 year span, and
found that happiness has a contagious effect. In Fowler’s study, individuals
who were happy not only impacted the happiness levels of their friends, but
also positively impacted the happiness of their friends’ friends. So, if
happiness results from social relationships, and social relationships spread
feelings of happiness throughout communities, why wouldn’t individuals increase
their social involvement to take advantage of this positive happiness cycle?
mental illness promotes its own cycle of unhappiness. Individuals who are
anxious or depressed are more likely to socially isolate themselves, resulting
in increased anxiety and depression. Often, individuals with mental illness
experience feelings of vulnerability and shame around their symptoms or
diagnoses, which further fuels their reluctance to engage in social
happens when depressed or anxious individuals resist the urge to socially
isolate, and instead bravely express their feelings to others? A 2012 study
from Stanford by Katharina Kircanski, Matthew D. Lieberman, and Michelle G.
Craske indicates that verbally expressing vulnerable feelings may help
individuals more quickly feel less anxious or depressed.
speaker, and sociological researcher, Brene Brown, explains that vulnerably
disclosing sensitive information, such as feelings of anxiety and depression,
may result in individuals been more well-liked. “We are actually drawn to
people who are real and down-to-earth,” says Brown. “We love authenticity and
we know that life is messy and imperfect.” Brown suggests that when a person is
honest and vulnerable, it gives others the space and permission to be the same
– thus improving social bonding and often increasing feelings of happiness in
both the individual and their peers. Rather than burdening others with their
true feelings, individuals with mental health challenges may open doors for
valued relationships within their community.
For those who
spend a few dollars on lottery tickets this month, perhaps consider saving your
money for coffee with a friend next time - it may be more powerful than those
Coates, D., & Janoff-Bulman, R. (n.d.). Lottery winners and accident
victims: Is happiness relative? Journal
of Personality and Social Psychology, 917-927.
(2010). The gifts of imperfection: Let go
of who you think you're supposed to be and embrace who you are. Center
City, Minn.: Hazelden.
& Seligman, M. (n.d.). Beyond Money: Toward an Economy of Well-Being. Social Indicators Research Series The
Science of Well-Being, 201-265.
& Christakis, N. (2008). Dynamic spread of happiness in a large social
network: Longitudinal analysis over 20 years in the Framingham Heart Study. Bmj.
Lieberman, M., & Craske, M. (2012). Feelings Into Words: Contributions of
Language to Exposure Therapy. Psychological