Christopher Boyce: Can money can buy happiness

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‘IT could be you,” screams the advertising slogan, and after Edinburgh’s Willie Sibbald scooped a £7 million jackpot many will have been wishing it could have been them – but is becoming suddenly rich guaranteed to give someone a happier, more fulfilling life?

To some this may seem like a ‘no brainer’. “Of course it would make a person happier,” I can hear people already thinking. However, greater happiness and more fulfilment after winning such a staggering amount of money is by no means guaranteed.

Suddenly winning £7m represents a large shock to many and although it gives the winner the ability to buy the things they’d always felt they needed, or pay back debt, will this lead to sustained increases in happiness?

Decades of research has shown that although money might help a tiny bit there are much more important things in life that better contribute to sustained happiness. For example, our friends and family, our physical and mental health, as well as who we are inside and how we relate to the world around us – things money is rarely able to buy.

In fact, it is possible that a sudden windfall on the lottery may even put many of these more important contributors to greater happiness in jeopardy. A lottery win may put strain on social relationships, put someone’s physical health at risk through the pursuit of a hedonistic lifestyle, and money is also likely to change us fundamentally.

When people imagine what it would be like winning the lottery, or in fact when they actually do, the potential negative effects aren’t always considered and there is a tendency to over-focus only on the having more money bit and all of the things one might do with it.

As humans we are biased in our judgements – this is particularly so when it comes to money and why lotteries are often so successful. A windfall on the lottery may indeed bring greater happiness but the case is far from clear cut.

• Dr Christopher Boyce is research fellow, Stirling Management School, University of Stirling.