Lottery winners and accident victims: is happiness relative?

J Pers Soc Psychol. 1978 Aug;36(8):917-27. doi: 10.1037//0022-3514.36.8.917.


Adaptation level theory suggests that both contrast and habituation will operate to prevent the winning of a fortune from elevating happiness as much as might be expected. Contrast with the peak experience of winning should lessen the impact of ordinary pleasures, while habituation should eventually reduce the value of new pleasures made possible by winning. Study 1 compared a sample of 22 major lottery winners with 22 controls and also with a group of 29 paralyzed accident victims who had been interviewed previously. As predicted, lottery winners were not happier than controls and took significantly less pleasure from a series of mundane events. Study 2 indicated that these effects were not due to preexisting differences between people who buy or do not buy lottery tickets or between interviews that made or did not make the lottery salient. Paraplegics also demonstrated a contrast effect, not by enhancing minor pleasures but by idealizing their past, which did not help their present happiness.

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Traffic*
  • Achievement*
  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Habituation, Psychophysiologic
  • Happiness*
  • Humans
  • Life Style
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Paraplegia / psychology*
  • Quadriplegia / psychology*