One of the rights guaranteed by the
U.S. Constitution is the “pursuit of happiness,” but it has never been
clear how best to proceed with our search for bliss. Dr. Richard
Tunney, associate professor in the school of psychology at the
University of Nottingham, Britain, tackled this question in a unique
manner. He was commissioned by the National Lottery to study the
winners of large jackpots. Using a “satisfaction with life scale”
previously developed by the University of Illinois, the “happiness
level” of winners was assessed.
Dr. Tunney began by noting, “As jackpot
winners are on the whole happier than non-winners—95 percent claim that
they are positive about their life compared to 71 percent of people in
the comparison group—we researched the treats they rewarded themselves
with to see what could influence their mood state.”
Many winners used their windfall to
lavish themselves with pleasures previously out of reach: showy cars,
diamond jewelry, glamorous vacations, new wardrobes and expensive
homes. While these pricey indulgences brought a measure of happiness,
they did not equal the pleasure derived from many cost-free activities.
Surprisingly, these newly minted
millionaires obtained the most enjoyment from treats that are available
to all, lottery winners or not. The list of delights mentioned in the
study included a long soak in a bath, an afternoon nap, a walk in the
park, time spent enjoying a favorite hobby, sharing a bottle of wine,
listening to music, reading a book and savoring a piece of chocolate.
Dr. Tunney summarizes, “While buying
sports cars, giving up work and going on exotic holidays is out of
reach for most of us, there are small lessons we can learn from
society’s happiest people to help improve our quality of life. It
appears that spending time relaxing is the secret to a happy life.
Cost-free pleasures are the ones that make the difference, even when
you can afford anything that you want.”
Still, it would be nice to hit the
lottery and then relax with great tunes and chocolates while driving a
shiny, apple-red Ferrari.