Six numbers have the power to change your life.
Maybe your child is ill and there are hospital bills to pay. Maybe you’ve lost your job and you’re worried about making rent. Maybe you still have a job, but you’re miserable, and you’d really like to spend the next 50 years lying on a beach with a mai tai in hand.
Whatever your situation, the question remains: why do we play the lottery?
And to be clear, a great many of us do. In fact, more than 50% of the U.S. population play the lottery in a typical year.
“People love to have a rescue fantasy,” human behavior expert Dr. Wendy Walsh told CNN. “We have the Cinderella complex – there’s a fairy godmother who’s going to come in and save us.”
We’ve all heard the statistics. Your chances of winning a major lottery jackpot are about one in 175 million. You’re more likely to die from a bee sting (one in 6.1 million), be struck by lightning (one in 3 million) or have conjoined twins (one in 200,000).
But people keep playing – most likely because the thought of winning $500 million is much more fun than the thought of being attacked by a shark (one in 11.5 million).
“It doesn’t faze them because they’re in love with hope,” Walsh said.
Part of the allure is that everyone else is doing it, said Dr. Stephen Goldbart, author of “Affluence Intelligence” and co-director of the Money, Meaning & Choices Institute.
In a Psychology Today article titled “Lottery-itis!” Goldbart noted two main reasons why people spend money to play lotteries:
“Jumping on the bandwagon is an age-old motivator of psychological behavior,” wrote Goldbart and his colleague, Joan DiFuria. “We want to be with the in-crowd, to be ‘part of the movement,’ not ‘feel left out.’ ”
The second reason stems from a sense of disempowerment that comes with change – whether it’s a changing economy or a changing world.
“The map to finding the American Dream has been radically altered,” they wrote. “(The lottery) lets you believe in magic: that you will be the one who spent a little and got a lot; that you will defy the extraordinary odds against winning.”
Spend a little, get a lot – the basis for every good investment. The low cost of a lottery ticket is one of the most seductive things about it.
One study, published in the Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, theorized that people focus on the cost-to-benefit ratio of a single ticket rather than add up the long-term cost of playing over a year, or a lifetime.
Still, to say that playing the lottery is a bad idea doesn’t sit well with the professor of economics and psychology.
“It’s ridiculous to say that 51% of the population is just irrational or self-destructive,” he said. “It serves a psychological function for people. … Our pleasure of living is not only based on our current situation, but what could be, what we can imagine our situation could become.”
Irrational or not, millions will sit around their TV and computer screens, praying that their lucky six numbers will appear.
They’re optimistic that the fairy-tale ending they’ve been waiting for will come, even if it takes a little magic.
Of course, playing the lottery doesn’t have to cost you money. You can play at FreeLotto for free: