The Lottery Curse

Why do so many people who win the lottery end up miserable?

So you didn’t win the $1.5 billion Powerball jackpot? Yeah, I didn’t either. I guess the downside is that my month-long trip around the world is going to have to wait a bit. However, on the upside, coming into all that cash isn’t going to ruin the relationships I have with all my family and friends, and keeping them around is worth more to me than even the biggest jackpot.

Have you ever watched the TV show “The Lottery Changed My Life”? I’ve seen it a couple times, and I’ve noticed that even though they try to highlight the happy stories and put a positive spin on things, a lot of the people on the show go bankrupt – both financially and emotionally.

Hiring a financial planner seems to be a good piece of advice for lottery winners who hope to hang onto their winnings. The financial problems that come with winning the lottery are somewhat surprising at first blush, but research has actually shown that about 70 percent of people who suddenly receive a windfall of cash will lose it within a few years. This isn’t true just for lottery winners either; consider the fate of many professional athletes who wind up broke just a few short years after ending their multimillion dollar careers.

The emotional problems winners face are more predictable. It can’t be easy to deal with the greed that you suddenly see in the eyes of so many people you used to call friends, or the desperate need that others try to bring to your attention.

Beyond that though, money just doesn’t solve all your problems. In fact, many problems actually end up getting worse. An article from the American Bar Association provides a good example of this: “…as one ex-wife explained, ‘Before we won the lottery, my husband used to go out drinking all night with his buddies and I would lock him out of the house and he’d have to sleep in his truck in the driveway. After we won the lottery, he just got a big suite at the Four Seasons and partied all night—and never came home.’”

This is not a picture of marital bliss. Nor is the story about the woman from California who hid the fact that she won the lottery from her husband, filed for divorce, and then lost all her money to her ex-husband when he found out she had secretly won and hidden it. I guess Notorious B.I.G. was right when he lamented “Mo Money Mo Problems.”

All this being said, I don’t believe there is truly a “lotto curse.” Divorce happens, bankruptcies happen, they just happen on a larger, more public scale if you are a lotto winner.

When you have money to buy all the “stuff” you could ever want, you realize that “stuff” is not what is important in life. Sure it would be nice to never have to worry about money, but given the choice, I would much rather live a normal life surrounded by my loved ones than to die rich but alone and miserable.