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Jewish World Review May 7, 2002 / 25 Iyar, 5762

Lenore Skenazy

Skenazy
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Consumer Reports


If you win the lottery,
you may be out of luck


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Turns out Angelito Marquez held a winning ticket after all.

By choosing losing numbers, the nursing home employee spared himself - and his co-workers - the horrors of winning the lottery.

Granted, that's probably not precisely how they're seeing it at the moment. But the hysteria of the past few days provides a hint of just how awful life can be for anyone unlucky enough to win an obscene amount of money.

For two weeks, Marquez's erstwhile buddies at the Newark Extended Care Facility were convinced he'd hit the jackpot with their pool money and was hogging the $59 million for himself. So they hired lawyers and blasted him on national TV. There were even rumors of death threats.

It wasn't until last Monday, when the New Jersey Lottery declared Marquez definitely not a winner, that the co-workers shut up. No hard feelings, right, Angelito?

At least this hardworking family man gets to go back to some semblance of his normal life. But for folks who actually do win, that's impossible, and they're lost.

"When people think of winning the lottery, all they imagine is the money," says Harvard psychology Prof. Daniel Gilbert. "What they fail to imagine are all the other things that come with it. For example, having relatives come out of the woodwork to beg for money. Having desperate strangers putting you in constant moral quandaries where you can either buy a new car or save their lives."

It's hard to quit working, too. Structure and social life disappear. Goodbye, time clock. Hello, tequila.

Worst of all: Everyone's motives become suspect. "People who used to like you for your great sense of humor suddenly may like you only for what you can do for them," says Gilbert. "Your trust in other people is undermined."

While Lotto loot can improve things that don't really matter, like the size of your house, it corrodes the things that do: trust, family, friendship.

Is a mansion really worth more than the joy of bowling with buddies who aren't angling for a loan?

The research says it's not. In one study done in the late 1970s, two professors compared the happiness levels of lottery winners with adults who had become paraplegic. Their findings?

At first, of course, the winners were giddy and the accident victims morose. But after about a year, both groups were equally content - except the lottery winners reported taking less joy in daily events.

Winning the lottery doesn't even solve most people's financial problems.

"I've had four lottery winners from all over the country," says Donald White, a financial adviser with the Million Dollar Round Table. Among these clients, he says, "There's one good story, and three are really ugly."

The good story concerned a retiring New York cop who won about $5 million and had the self-control to live off the interest.

The other three didn't. One couple immediately divorced and have just seven years left on their 20-year payout. Unless they start saving soon, both will be broke at the end.

Same basic story with couple No. 2.

The last guy - a single man - racked up so much credit card debt that he just declared bankruptcy.

All of them thought they could handle the sudden wealth and freedom, the joy of leaving the rat race.

But as it turns out, most rats enjoy racing far more than just lolling about, gorging on brie and wondering, "I've got it all. So why aren't I happy?"



JWR contributor Lenore Skenazy is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.

Up

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