December 19th, 2019

After reading “Stumbling on Happiness” by Daniel Gilbert, I started saying things like “that would make me happy,” and adding after a pause for effect, “for six months.” Gilbert’s book describes a study of lottery winners who self-reported their happiness levels before and after winning. The result was that they reported their happiness as “very high” just after winning (duh.) But that their reported happiness level went right back where it was after only six months.

I don’t believe this for a minute, and the only way you can convince me otherwise is to give me that winning ticket. This “for six months” phrase has joined the ranks of such household memes as “You’ll thank me later” (Tony Shalhoub’s Monk) “God I miss Jack” (European Vacation) and “You shall not pass” (Lord of the Rings.) The commercials for the new iPhone prompt me to say, “that would make me happy for six months.” and I mean it. I really do, but I just can’t accept that a new house and a new car would only make me happy for six months.

Something about this study smells bad. Presumably, they had a pre-lottery happiness level, right? So, how did they know the participants were about to win the lottery? And what is meant by “won the lottery”? Is it retire-today money (7-figures)? Is it f*#k-you money(6-figures)? Or is it, as I suspect, a much more modest amount - the kind that could be reasonably expected to occur in a psychology study of a few hundred gambling addicts. If it’s in the new-car range(5-figures), then yes, I can believe it would fade after a few months. Clearly, this calls for more research.