The Happiness Contest
The Happiness Contest: Accident Victims vs Lottery Winners
Suppose you would measure happiness for 2 groups of people: Group 1 containing people that just got paralyzed (e.g. lost their legs due to a car accident) and Group 2, a group of recent millionaires (e.g. people that won the national lottery).
Who do you think would have the highest happiness scores?
Is that a silly question? Not as silly as you might think!
Scientific research has proven that right after both major events took place, the lottery winners were much happier then the accident victims.
No shit Sherlock!
But when the researchers investigated the same two groups 1 year later, both groups had almost EQUAL happiness scores: the average happiness score for the group of lottery winners did not really grow in the past year while the average happiness score for the paralysed people grew significantly in the first year rigth after they had the accident, reaching about the same level as that of the lottery winners!
One of the findings of this study was that lottery winners couldn’t enjoy the small things in life anymore, they didn’t value the pleasure of mundane events compared to the accident victims!
In common language: while the paralyzed person for example was really enjoying the possibility of entering his local pub in a wheelchair for having a beer with his friend again, the lottery winners could not even enjoy the bottle of exclusive champagne with lobster(not again!) at the pool of their 6star hotel in Dubai.
What we learn from this scientific research is that the “overall positive or negative effect of a single positive or negative event should not be overestimated: Most likely there are contrast effects, that compensate some of the effect and habituation effects, that limit the duration of a feeling generated by an event.”
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.