Some time after winning their money, lottery winners weren’t all that much happier than people who hadn’t won — and accident victims weren’t anywhere as unhappy as the researchers had assumed.
Shouldn’t lottery winners be ecstatic and paralyzed accident victims be miserable? No.
What the authors of the study found was that:
1) Much of happiness exists outside of objective life circumstances. Attitude and perspective mean a lot more than actual events.
2) We’re prone to a contrast effect. Events in our lives don’t have set values; they’re compared to other events. Winning the lottery is such a big deal it actually makes every other good thing in the winner’s life less enjoyable.
3) We’re also prone to habituation. Simply put, we can get accustomed to nearly anything, no matter how good or bad. After time, a wheelchair doesn’t seem so bad — and a million dollars doesn’t seem as good.
From the study:
Source: “Is happiness relative?” from Pascal Wallisch, Freie Universität Berlin, reviewing “Lottery winners and accident victims: is happiness relative?” J Pers Soc Psychol. 1978 Aug;36(8):917-27.
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