Hedonic Treadmill [...]

From NYT:

The evidence comes from an influential paper in 1978 reporting that lottery winners were not any happier than their neighbors or more optimistic about the future. In fact, they weren’t any more optimistic about their future happiness than a group of people who had been in accidents that left them paralyzed.

It was one of the first studies testing the theory that we’re all stuck on a “hedonic treadmill,” a term coined by the paper’s lead author, Philip Brickman, for the idea that good or bad events don’t permanently affect our levels of happiness. The theory remains popular with many psychologists, and the lottery study is still one of the prime pieces of supporting evidence.

But the study involved only 22 lottery winners, and it didn’t reveal whether their happiness changed. It measured their feelings at just one point in time, typically within a year of hitting the jackpot, and it compared them at that point with neighbors whose names were chosen from a phone book. Dr. Brickman and his co-authors noted the limitations and urged more rigorous research tracking winners’ feelings over time. (He died in 1982.)

It has taken a few decades, but that research has finally been done. The findings are good news for those who hit the jackpot — and for the rest of us who want to get off that hedonic treadmill.

The feelings of hundreds of lottery winners were tracked in two separate studies, both drawing on a British national survey of adults who were extensively interviewed annually about their states of mind and about events in their lives.

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One of the studies, by Bénédicte Apouey and Andrew E. Clark of the Paris School of Economics, found that people tended to drink and smoke a little more after winning the prize, but that their overall physical health remained the same. Their levels of stress declined over two years while their positive feelings increased, so that their general psychological well-being was significantly higher two years after winning than it had been beforehand.

The other study, by Jonathan Gardner and Andrew J. Oswald of the University of Warwick in England, found that winners’ psychological well-being dipped slightly the year they won the prize, but more than rebounded the next two years. The winners ended up much better off psychologically, and also better off than both the general population and a sample of lottery players who hadn’t won a significant prize.

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