Given the relative hysteria that surrounded the $1.6 billion U.S. Powerball jackpot last week, various discussions have emerged that question the implications that a landfall of that nature would have on someone’s life. At the time of writing the winners of the jackpot were yet unidentified, but if like the vast majority of people you didn’t win, this post might make you feel a little bit better!
The debate of whether money truly can buy you happiness has been wrought with disagreement for decades. On a personal level I feel inclined to argue that in reality, money cannot buy you happiness, but it certainly can help. Psychological research has time and time again illustrated the benefits of having a higher socioeconomic status (SES). Higher SES has been found to be associated with a number of positive outcomes including better physical and mental health. However it is important to remember that SES is more than just a measure of someone’s wealth, it is also a measure of that person’s social, working and education experience in relation to others. Therefore SES reflects more than just what is in somebodies pocket. This means that more money does not necessarily guarantee that you will live a longer healthier life. In fact more money without the presence of the other factors reflected in SES, can on occasion lead to poorer health outcomes.
For instance consider the recent study carried out by Benedicte Apouey and Andrew Clark and published the Journal of Health Economics that found that winning the lottery can have negative consequences for an individual’s health. Apouey and Clark utilized data from a largescale British sample to demonstrate that exogenous movements of income or sudden influxes of wealth can in fact lead to significant increases in risky health behaviours such as drinking, smoking, drug use and gambling. These behaviours can in turn lead to poorer physical health. In contrast they found that such influxes were found to be associated with slight improvements in mental health. Interestingly, these findings assimilate nicely to previous research by Christopher Rhum who found that in times of recession, improvements are generally seen in physical health and problems in mental health are increased. Taken together these two pieces of research illustrate that sudden changes in financial standings can impact significantly on different components of our health and well-being.
Provided that higher SES has long been associated with better overall general health, the current findings suggest that the rapidness of change in financial status that occurs for lottery winners is what causes negative health outcomes. Though not a direct measure of happiness, our health and well-being are commonly incorporated into overall measurements of the construct and therefore money in this case may not guarantee happiness, at least if it has long-term implications on our health. So if you were in fact one of the few fortunate people who did scoop up a fraction of the jackpot last week, it’s advisable that you keep up the day job or invest in some type of education or employment that can provide you with some sense of grounding in order to avoid the excesses that can thwart the health of the newly rich. I expect that anyone who finds themselves in this unlikely situation will throw caution to the wind, but those of us that were not so lucky last week, might find some comfort in the fact that the grass is not always greener on the other side.
Ms. Niamh Allen, M.A. B.Sc.