Why do people buy lottery tickets?

It’s relatively well known that people who win the lottery are (still) unhappy in the long term. They also continue to buy tickets after they’ve won.

So maybe it isn’t about winning.

It’s relatively well known that the odds are stacked highly against you. Like, really high. Statistically, you are 400 times more likely to be hit by lightning than win the U.S.’ MegaMillions.

That means buying a lottery ticket is just as rational as paying $800 a day to be safe from lightning strikes. Would you invest in that protection? Probably not.

So maybe it isn’t about probability, rationality or mathematics.

Of course it isn’t about any of those things. It’s about the journey. It’s about the feelings.

People pay for the journey of going to the cash desk, receiving the ticket, the excitement of hope and possibility. A bit of pocket change to be allowed to dream about a utopic reality, even if just for a few moments? Sign me up.

When you don’t win, the game is over. But you get to play again tomorrow. To dream again tomorrow. That’s why millions buy lottery tickets, even though it doesn’t make much sense on the surface.


So what does any of this have to do with you and your life?

Well, if you are buying lottery tickets it might be time to stop and save your change for actually changing your life for the better, unless $800 a day to be safe from lightning sounds like the bargain of the century.

More importantly, the lottery is popular not because it makes sense, because you are likely to win, but because it allows people to hope. It allows people to dream and dangles the possibility of a transformed life right in front of your excited face. The fact that the chances of winning are so astonishingly small that there may as well be no winners from an investment point of view, makes no difference.

Humans are irrational actors. In most instances, they don’t care about the information or the numbers or the logistics, they care about feelings.

If you are seeking to make a positive change in your own life, in a close relative’s life or in your community, it is important to remember that people prioritise feelings over numbers. You can give yourself all of the free self-help PDFs in the world but if they don’t invoke feelings of excitement and hope and dreams about a new, better reality for yourself, then they are just words on a page.

No change.

No action.

Understanding the information is useful, but understanding the people you seek to serve and how they operate, including yourself, is best.


H/T to Seth Godin