Lottery Tickets and Happiness

Let’s assume that each week, 10,000,000 people buy lottery tickets. I don’t know what the actual number is. Now conduct the following thought experiment:

  • Group #1 is the control group. They do things the way they’ve always done it. They have to go out and physically buy their tickets, with their own cash, before the 6 PM deadline on Wednesday and Saturday.
  • Group #2 gets a ticket also, but instead of paying cash, they get the $1 per week withheld from payroll. Their ticket is held in escrow and they only get notified if they won something.
  • Group #2’s odds of winning are 10 percent higher than Group #1.

Which group is happier? I’d argue group #1, because they have to take an active role in something that might bring them rewards. Passivity here works to the detriment of Group #2, even though they have better odds of winning. In other words, it’s about the journey, not the results; the action, not the reaction; the sowing, not the reaping.

I think this is important. Doing something – anything – is preferable to not doing, even if the odds are lousy and you’re actually being unproductive. They don’t call the lottery the idiot tax because it’s got great odds. However, a step backwards is preferable to no step at all — when measured in happiness.

Do you agree? If not, why not?


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