Julie Hambleton
Julie Hambleton
February 8, 2023 ·  3 min read

Harvard professor says ‘winning a $20 million lottery won’t make you happier in life’—but these 4 things will

We’ve all thought about what we would do if we won the lottery. With our financial woes out of the way, it seems as though the path to a happy life is pretty straightforward – but is it? Science says winning the lottery does not make people happier in the long run. Rather, this Harvard professor explained that winning $20 million in a lottery won’t make you happier in life, but these four things will. 

Harvard Professor Says The Secret To Happiness Isn’t Winning The Lottery

While money can buy happiness to an extent, Harvard professor Sanjiv Chopra says it isn’t necessarily the secret sauce to happiness. It isn’t the same, he says, as discovering joy through meaningful relationships or giving back to those around us. A sane person can tell the age old tale that money won’t buy you love or make the planet jubilant in the long run. The professor explained his reasons for why this is true, citing a case study of someone who had just won millions of dollars and still wasn’t feeling satisfied with their life. (1)

Material Items Just Don’t Cut It 

According to the report, many lottery winners have experienced a ‘spoiling’ effect that has left them less satisfied with their lives. Professor Chopra outlined four key things that can lead to more happiness than winning the lottery: 

  • surrounding yourself with friends and family
  • donating money or volunteering time to charities or other organizations
  • helping others in need
  • spending your time and money on experiences rather than material items 

He reported that these are some of the most fulfilling ways to live life and will lead to long-term happiness. So essentially, having friends, giving, getting involved with charities, and letting go of negative feelings will get you far further towards a happy life than any amount of money could ever do.

“A few probably spent their money on a big mansion or a fancy car. Maybe they spent it all on gambling. But even so, at the end of three months, it’s just a house, it’s just a nice car. You get used to it,” he says.

Hedonic Adaptation 

Chopra is a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and an attending physician at Johns Hopkins Hospital. As already stated, he recently reported that winning a $20 million lottery won’t make you happier in life. Instead, he calls this phenomenon “hedonic adaptation”. According to Betterhelp, hedonic adaptation, also known as the hedonic treadmill, is defined as:
The observed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes. The theory behind hedonic adaptation is that human beings possess a specific “set level of happiness,” and no matter what happens to us, good or bad, we will always return to our original state or “set level of happiness.” (2)

Professor Chopra recommends four ways to just increase your happiness. He suggests: 

  • savoring positive experiences
  • strengthening relationships with the people around you by savoring the people in your life
  • making conscious decisions to invest in yourself and those around you, and 
  • taking care of your physical health. 

Dr. Chopra has been working with the Adult Consultation Clinic at Johns Hopkins Hospital for many years helping those with mood disorders. Through his work there, he has seen firsthand how investing in one’s own wellbeing is essential for improved mental health.

The Bottom Line

If you were searching for the secret to happiness, there you have it. Surround yourself with good people. This means people who lift you up, push you to be better, and support you and your goals. This also means cutting out those who drain your energy or make you feel like less-than (the so-called “toxic” people).

Donate your money and time to causes you believe in. Help the people around you and those in need – be an active member of your community. Finally, don’t invest your money in material things that will only give you temporary happiness. Instead, invest in experiences and invest in yourself and your health. Those will take you far further than a fancy car ever will.


  1. Harvard professor says ‘winning a $20 million lottery won’t make you happier in life’—but these 4 things will.” CNBC. Kyle Young. May 31, 2019.
  2. The Psychology Of Hedonic Adaptation & What You Should Know About It.” Better Help.  August 30, 2022