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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 February, 2004, 11:43 GMT
Can a lottery win make you happy?
By Megan Lane
BBC News Online Magazine

The first Euro lottery draw takes place on Friday, with the prospect of multi-million pound jackpots. How do windfall winners come to grips with their newfound wealth - and does it make them happy?

For the price of a newspaper and a chocolate bar, any one of us can buy into a multi-million pound dream.

It is a dream that lottery operators are keen to sell to yet more of us with the launch of EuroMillions, a mega draw for the UK, France and Spain aimed at boosting our flagging interest in lotteries.

For the price of a 1.50 ticket - slightly less on the Continent - players buy a shot at a jackpot that could reach 50m. Never mind that the odds of scooping such a glittering prize are just one in 76 million - it could be vous.

It is the UK's first taste of a super lottery. In the United States, hefty prize pots have sent ticket sales soaring, and in Spain the El Gordo lottery - which translates as the Fat One - is a national obsession. It pays out more than any other draw in the world, with last year's prizes totalling 1.8bn euros.

But what to do with a sudden windfall?

Buying tickets for Spain's El Gordo - the Fat One - lottery
"I want that one"
Winners tend to have a fairly unsurprising shopping list when first contemplating their millions - a share for family and friends, a flash car or three, a dream home and a leisurely jaunt to someplace exotic.

Many have more altruistic aims. Council estate teen Callie Rogers bought her foster mum a new wheelchair when she won 1.9m last summer. And cancer sufferer Hazel Grange vowed to donate a large chunk of her 4.7m windfall to cancer research and a diabetes charity - as well as splashing out on a trip to the Maldives and a classic car.

As with any sudden purchase, some get a bit carried away. One winner bought a car but couldn't drive; another dined in a succession of posh restaurants, only to realise that fish fingers were still a favourite dish despite her millions. And gifting money can be a burden if it's not done in a tax-efficient way.

Money and happiness

When 19-year-old Michael Carroll won almost 10m just over a year ago, he celebrated with spag bol and a bottle of vodka. Such simple tastes don't last long with such a wedge in the bank - the former dustman bought a fast car and a luxury mansion in Norfolk, where he treated his friends to quad bike races and displays of industrial-sized fireworks.

Michael Carroll
Michael Carroll was dubbed a "lotto lout" by the tabloids
His antics did not endear him to his new neighbours. And then his wife walked out on him with their baby daughter.

On Tuesday, Carroll admitted a string of drug offences. His solicitor told the court that relationship woes had made Carroll very low. "His good fortune has not made him popular. He has sought solace in drugs."

Such cautionary tales are seized upon by those who believe that money cannot buy happiness. There have been bankruptcies and the occasional suicide among lottery millionaires.

Last month a hot dispute broke out over a $162m win in Ohio's lottery. The prize was awarded to Rebecca Jemison, but Elecia Battle claimed she had lost the winning ticket in the snow. She later dropped her lawsuit, and has been charged with filing a false police report. "I wanted to win so bad for my kids and my family. I apologise," she said.

Elecia Battle
Ms Battle claimed she lost the ticket
Then there's the UK's best-known rags to riches to rags tale. In 1961, Viv Nicholson won 152,000 on the football pools - a cool 3m today - and declared that she was going to "spend spend spend".

With a taste for race horses, shocking pink Cadillacs and husbands who turned out to be after her money, she was eventually reduced to living on a state pension.

Psychologist Cary Cooper, who has looked at the case studies of winners for whom it all went wrong, has concluded that those who are dissatisfied with their lives beforehand are not rescued by money.

And those who quit work may find themselves isolated and at a loose end, especially if they've started a new life far from their old social circle.

But in the main, even an extra 1,000 makes people happier, says Professor Andrew Oswald, of Warwick University. He has studied lottery winners and those who've come into an inheritance for over a decade.

"Lots of people would like to think that there are a lot of miserable millionaires out there, but even quite small windfalls show up in our statistics on psychological wellbeing. Large sums are better than small sums."

Millionaires' club

As someone who counsels lottery winners on how to handle their windfall, Camelot employee Dot Renshaw has met more millionaires than most of us.

Lottery winner Hazel Grange and husband Terry
Hazel and Terry Grange toast their win
Anyone who scoops more than 500,000 is given access to a financial advisor and a lawyer, to direct them how best to manage their cash. Despite stories about overnight millionaires going off the rails, money does not have the dramatic effect we might think.

"People are frightened it's going to change them as a person but in fact it's their lifestyle that alters. If they were a kind, warm-hearted person before, they will be after."

Nevertheless, the fact they've been through such an extraordinary experience brings lottery millionaires together.

"Camelot organises celebrations to which we invite big winners and some of them have struck up friendships. There's no doubt they all have something quite unusual in common."

That something is an enormous stroke of luck that other envy and aspire to, believing that money makes possible many of the things we value. "Who among us wouldn't want to win the lottery?" says Professor Oswald. "I'd love to win the lottery."


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