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One Dollar --> Happiness, Guaranteed!

Because I like you all so much, I've decided to share my formula for guaranteed happiness — well, almost guaranteed. It's quite simple (and the idea's not original to me, though I can't recall from whom* I got it in order to give proper attribution):

1. Buy a lottery ticket - the bigger the payoff, the better. 2. Pay with (untraceable) cash. 3. Burn the ticket. 4. Watch the televised drawing of the winner.

You will be very, very happy when your number is not picked as the winner, which it will not be — I'm 99.9999999999% certain of that. You want better odds at getting happiness for $1, you have to talk to the Man upstairs.

[*thanks neurodoc!!]

TRE:
I don't get it.
3.6.2009 10:30am
Blar (mail) (www):
3.6.2009 10:32am
JK:
Oh I like, I'm going to steal that one!
3.6.2009 10:36am
Tolley Jenkins (mail):

I don't get it.


You'll be a lot happier the number you burned didn't come up (which it won't) than if you kept it and didn't win (which you wouldn't).
3.6.2009 10:38am
http://volokh.com/?exclude=davidb:
I think there's a meaningful distinction between "happiness" and "relief" -- and I think, strictly speaking, you will be relieved when your number is not picked as the winner, rather than truly "happy."

By contrast, one would be truly "happy" if, say, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was caught cross-dressing.

But I still like the idea.

For a similar effect, one could go stand on a scaffolding and then experience tremendous relief when it doesn't collapse. And you could also be happy that you hadn't spent a dollar in the process.
3.6.2009 10:39am
texasfox82:
I think the most interesting thing to come out that experiment would be to follow the people who's ticket won after them having burned it. I wonder what the rate of suicide would be, also depression, manic behavior, etc.
3.6.2009 10:51am
Nathan_M (mail):
This plan reminds me of AIG's business plan. It gives a very high chance it will make you a little bit happy, just like there was a very high chance that AIG would make a nice little profit on each credit default swap it wrote. But if your bet doesn't pay off you'll be exceptionally unhappy, or in AIG's case insolvent and require huge government bailouts.
3.6.2009 10:55am
Francis (mail):
There's probably no Man, nor Woman either. Enjoy life anyway.
3.6.2009 10:56am
Dick King:
Imagine the lottery commission's reaction when the $26 million winner never shows up to claim hir prize!

-dk
3.6.2009 10:56am
Caliban Darklock (www):
I've heard that recent studies show it's every bit as exciting to go find out whether you won as it is to actually win.

So slot machines and the lottery, while they produce guaranteed financial loss, also produce guaranteed excitement. We rationalise this with systems and the gambler's fallacy, not because we really believe them, but because we need to concoct some kind of transparent rationale for why we enjoy... losing.
3.6.2009 10:58am
Plastic:
Well, that doesn't work for me, since I'm still sad I wasted a dollar. My guaranteed source of a quick boost of happiness is to stop reading/watching the news for 2 days. Whatever works for you, though.
3.6.2009 10:59am
neurodoc:
As I started to read this, I thought it would turn out to be yet another Nigerian scam think. Then I saw it wasn't, but that the person posting did not observe the who/whom distinction, which undermines confidence. Finally, I would tell you that something like this actually happened with a close relative.

The wife would buy one Florida lottery ticket good for a chance each week for 52 successive weeks, always playing the same numbers, a combo of her anniversary date and birth dates of two children. After 46 weeks had gone by, she bought another 52-week ticket with the same numbers, thus overlapping the first one for those few wees. Yup, she hit the lottery for >$5M with the originally purchased ticket and the subsequently purchased one, those in effect winning twice, though that didn't increase the payoff, since no one else had the winning numbers. Then like in an O'Henry story, she couldn't find the originally purchased ticket, so stood to lose half the winnings because she could present both tickets?! Her husband knew that they had a ticket with the winning number and that two such tickets had been sold, but he didn't know that they had both tickets, that is if the first one could be found. For two weeks she went through everything looking for the first one, until she turned it up in a purse stuck in the back of a filing cabinet. (This profligate person bought many expensive purses.) Only then did she let her husband that they had both tickets, and hence the winnings were all theirs, there was no one else out there with whom to split the pot.

I think this family story (true!) is close enough not to be OT, and even if it is OT, it's too damn good not to tell at every opportunity. (The rest of the story, that is the part that follows the winning of the lottery $Ms is too infuriating to tell without a few drinks under the belt.)
3.6.2009 11:00am
Hoosier:
The Man Upstairs from me never comes out of his appartment, and he has too many cats.

If he has so much influnce over huge pay-outs, why is living in my building?
3.6.2009 11:04am
neurodoc:
Caliban Darklock: I've heard that recent studies show it's every bit as exciting to go find out whether you won as it is to actually win.

So slot machines and the lottery, while they produce guaranteed financial loss, also produce guaranteed excitement. We rationalise this with systems and the gambler's fallacy, not because we really believe them, but because we need to concoct some kind of transparent rationale for why we enjoy... losing.
It all comes down to the neurotransmitter dopamine. Some people with no history of gambling, other addictions, or risky behavior, take dopamine agonist drugs for Parkinsons Disease and become compulsive gamblers, bringing themselves
to financial ruin. They might with some justification use the Flip Wilson excuse, that is, "The Devil made me do it."
3.6.2009 11:05am
Hoosier:
apartment
3.6.2009 11:06am
Hedberg:
Rather than buying a ticket and burning it, I find it much more satisfying to take the dollar, crumble it into a ball, and flush it down the toilet. The probability of winning the lottery by this method is, as far as I can tell, indistinguishable from the probability of winning by buying a ticket, and the thrill of watching that dollar circle around in the bowl is almost as great as the thrill I get when I pay my self-employment tax. Better, actually, as it serves a greater purpose.
3.6.2009 11:09am
Yum:
Just order a McDouble.
3.6.2009 11:11am
Sagar:
http://volokh.com/?exclude=davidb:

exactly!
3.6.2009 11:16am
tom wet story (mail):
Raivo Pommer
raimo1@hot.ee

Luftgeld

Finanzpolitik und Steuerwesen sind oft so furchtbar abstrakt. Nehmen wir zum Beispiel die Zahl 100 Milliarden. Was sind 100 Milliarden? Seit einiger Zeit treibt uns der Gedanke um, wie man die guten Taten veranschaulichen kann, die wir als Steuerbürger notleidenden Geldabfackelvereinigungen aus der Finanzbranche zukommen lassen sollen.

Die Lösung ist der Artikel „Geldregen“, den das Versandhaus Tom Wet im Katalog hat (www.tomwet.com). Die monetäre Pappröhre für 13,75 Euro ist eigentlich als Partygag gedacht, kann aber durchaus für ernsthafte Aufgaben eingesetzt werden. Durch einen Dreh an dem 60-Zentimeter-Rohr werden viele Geldscheine - standardmäßig handelt es sich um Spielgeld - mit einem schönen Knall per Druckluftpatrone meterhoch in die Luft katapultiert.
3.6.2009 11:21am
PubliusFL:
Hey, I could NOT win the lottery for free. I'll take my $1 and buy, say, a spicy chicken sandwich from Carl's Jr. instead.
3.6.2009 11:24am
Arkady:
I'd only add:


If you wanna be happy for the rest of your life
Never make a pretty woman your wife
So from my personal point of view
Get an ugly girl to marry you

If you wanna be happy for the rest of your life
Never make a pretty woman your wife
So from my personal point of view
Get an ugly girl to marry you

A pretty woman makes her husband look small
And very often causes his downfall
As soon as he marries her then she starts
To do the things that will break his heart

But if you make an ugly woman your wife
you'll be happy for the rest of your life
An ugly woman cooks meals on time
And she'll always give you peace of mind

If you wanna be happy for the rest of your life
Never make a pretty woman your wife
So from my personal point of view
Get an ugly girl to marry you
3.6.2009 11:27am
Fub:
Even cheaper happiness: pick a lottery number by any method, the more "sure fire", the better. Write it down. Don't buy a ticket. Then watch as your number isn't drawn.

You'll be happy that you saved the dollar, and you'll be happy that you didn't believe superstitious nonsense.

I your number is drawn, spend the dollar on a cheap beer[1], then double the bet next week. Your happiness will increase without bound [2].

[1] If you can find a beer for a dollar. If you can't, then put the dollar into a beer fund.

[2] Unless you owe a beer to a conspirator, and try to foist the cheap beer on them.

Void where prohibited. You must be 21 to play.
3.6.2009 11:28am
Hoosier:
tom wet

Haben Sie das falsches Website besucht?
3.6.2009 11:28am
Hedberg:
I think the most interesting thing to come out that experiment would be to follow the people who's ticket won after them having burned it. I wonder what the rate of suicide would be, also depression, manic behavior, etc.

The number of people falling into despair as a result of burning a winning lottery ticket surely is insignificant compared to the number of people over all whose lives are ruined as a result of gambling. Probably you are at greater risk of being crushed by a despondent gambler jumping out a window.
3.6.2009 11:32am
Hoosier:
Hedberg

Mitch?
3.6.2009 11:50am
neurodoc:
Hedberg: Rather than buying a ticket and burning it, I find it much more satisfying to take the dollar, crumble it into a ball, and flush it down the toilet. The probability of winning the lottery by this method is, as far as I can tell, indistinguishable from the probability of winning by buying a ticket, and the thrill of watching that dollar circle around in the bowl is almost as great as the thrill I get when I pay my self-employment tax. Better, actually, as it serves a greater purpose.
When you do that, I don't think you're wasting a whole dollar, but I do think you are wasting fifty cents or so, that is the expectancy one who actually buys a ticket has. Wouldn't you rather spend the fifty cents on a postage stamp, a bagel, or something you might use?

(Hoosier, your experience of the Man Upstairs from you makes me think of a maudlin movie whose name I can't recall, but whose details I can: immigrant English or maybe Irish family with two girls moves to NYC, the father an aspiring actor, mother pregnant with another child, they're in bad economic straits when mother falls seriously ill and may lose baby, when Man Downstairs, one of those "magical black men," though not Morgan Freeman this time, comes to their rescue. Oh yes, and the younger girl tugs at the heart with her singing of "Desperados." Yeah, loosely associating here, but my brain is doing that at the moment as I dream of winning the lottery myself and gnash my teeth at the thought of our undeserving relative who did win.)

Now, there's the Jewish joke about a guy complaining to God that God doesn't shine his countenance upon him and cause him to win the lottery and God telling him to do his part and buy a ticket, but I've already gone on too long.
3.6.2009 11:58am
Hedberg:
Hoosier: Mitch?


Nope
3.6.2009 12:09pm
Hedberg:
Doc:When you do that, I don't think you're wasting a whole dollar, but I do think you are wasting fifty cents or so,

Yeah, I understand the expected value and all that. But, they don't actually give you 50 cents. They give you 2.5 cents/year for 20 years which is not nearly the same thing. Then, they take away somewhere between $.01 and $.015 for taxes and if you croak before the 20 years is up, they make your estate pay taxes on money you never had. Such a deal.

But, you're right. Rather than flushing a whole dollar, I'm going to start tearing the dollars in half and flushing just a half each time. Then, with the other half dollar, I'll buy a couple pieces of penny candy and check the integrity of my fillings.
3.6.2009 12:17pm
Michael Ejercito (mail) (www):
With a high-enough jackpot, the lottery can deliver a positive rate of return.
3.6.2009 12:28pm
TruePath (mail) (www):
Actually it turns out that winning the lottery ruins many people's lives. They get the money and get divorced and otherwise have their lives decay around them without getting accepted into the wealthy cast.

I strongly suspect that academics wouldn't experience the same kind of awful outcomes from winning the lotto since they live in a world where money is a smaller component of success. If anyone wants to give me a winning lotto ticket I'll test it for you.
3.6.2009 12:38pm
Hedberg:
With a high-enough jackpot, the lottery can deliver a positive rate of return.

Is that true? I would think that the higher the jackpot the more likely it would be to have multiple winners. I haven't done the math, and I'm not going to do it, but my wag would be that as the jackpot increases the expected return would decline because of greater participation.

Perhaps if a gambler only buys tickets when the jackpot is high and only selects unpopular numbers (reducing the chance of multiple winners with the selected numbers) it's possible.
3.6.2009 12:40pm
Jam:
All of you who rahter burn the dollar, how many of pay $5 for coffee?

I buy a lottery ticket every once in a looooooong while. Only when the jackpot is over $20 million. I almost never buy sodas or over priced cofee. Almost never go out for lunch; I eat leftovers or do not eat.

Wasting a dollar on a lottery ticket, when I do it, compares favorably against any other expenditures so many people make.

Havn't won yet :P
3.6.2009 12:43pm
Hedberg:
I eat leftovers or do not eat.

Be thankful that not everyone does that or there would be no leftovers for you to eat.
3.6.2009 12:48pm
Michael Ejercito (mail) (www):

Actually it turns out that winning the lottery ruins many people's lives. They get the money and get divorced and otherwise have their lives decay around them without getting accepted into the wealthy cast.


Is there any proof?
3.6.2009 12:49pm
lucia (mail) (www):
Jam--
I do what you do. The only problem is i also pay so little attention to the lottery that I often don't even notice when there is a big jackpot! I end up buying about 1 ticket a year.

I think the fun part of the lottery is dreaming of what you will do "when" you win. For me, 1 ticket for a really big win is enough. I get more value buying long before the drawing rather than just before the drawing. I get no additional value buying the next ticket.
3.6.2009 12:53pm
Eric Wilner (mail) (www):
Fub's suggestion is similar to the Pomeroy Method of playing the lottery:
(1) Pick your numbers, e.g., 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.
(2) Don't buy a ticket.
(3) If your numbers ever <i>do</i> come up, kick yourself.

The specific numbers, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, raise an interesting question. Mathematically, this is just as likely as any other six-number combination... but, if it <i>did</i> come up, would it be disqualified on grounds of impossibility?
3.6.2009 1:01pm
neurodoc:
[*thanks neurodoc!!]
Don't mention it, always glad to stand up for pedantry.:)
3.6.2009 1:16pm
John Stephens (mail):
Calculating the odds of winning the lottery is like reading the nutritional label on a bottle of beer: it misses the point. What I get for my dollar is the thrill of knowing that I could win. Any actual winnings are just a nice bonus. It doesn't last, of course, but neither does the buzz from beer and cigarettes. And since neither are permitted me for medical reasons, gambling is my only remaining vice.
3.6.2009 1:22pm
neurodoc:
Actually it turns out that winning the lottery ruins many people's lives. They get the money and get divorced and otherwise have their lives decay around them without getting accepted into the wealthy cast.
Michael Ejercito: Is there any proof?
Yes, I offer you my brother-in-law as proof positive of it. Please take him.
3.6.2009 1:28pm
ruralcounsel (mail):
What a pitiful way to try and point out the lousy odds of winning. Only a law prof could be so factually correct but emotionally wrong.

The dollar you pay is for the entertainment you get daydreaming about winning ... pretty cheap for a few days of higher adrenaline levels everytime you think about lightning striking. Whether you win or not, you've still gotten your money's worth ... unless you're such a dolt as to burn the ticket.

Beats spending $6 to see a movie, which you walk out of usually as empty-handed as you went in, and not experiencing anything as exciting.
3.6.2009 1:38pm
guest:
neurodoc:

okay, okay, i'll be the one. tell us the story of your brother-in-law and your sister after they won the lottery.
3.6.2009 1:41pm
Jam:
I have read stories of lottery winners ending up back down to broke, in divorces, suicides.

I really do not pay attention to the lottery but when the jackpot reaches certain amount it makes the local news and people mention it.

If I ever win I already know what I will do with it. It is all planned out.
3.6.2009 2:06pm
http://volokh.com/?exclude=davidb:

I have read stories of lottery winners ending up back down to broke, in divorces, suicides.

I got the bolded two out of three (they were related) without any cash winnings at all. So all else being equal, the lottery doesn't sound so bad to me.
3.6.2009 2:13pm
neurodoc:
Eric Wilner: The specific numbers, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, raise an interesting question. Mathematically, this is just as likely as any other six-number combination... but, if it did come up, would it be disqualified on grounds of impossibility?
Of course it isn't an impossibility that numbers in immediate sequence, e.g., 1, 2, 3, 4, 5..., will come up, and arguably it is better to wager on such a seemingly "improbable," if not "impossible" set of numbers. Most people believe that some numbers are more likely, luckier, or whatever than others, and would not dream of picking numbers in immediate sequence. So the chances of your immediate sequence of numbers winning is no less (nor greater) than any "randomly" chosen set, but your chances are greater that no one else will make the same choice as you, and thus you will avoid the possibility of having to split the jackpot with someone(s) else. (A math professor cousin of mine pointed out this way of exploiting people's mathematical foolishness to me a few years ago. Good advice I think if I could convince myself that 1-2-3-4-5-6 was really as likely to come up as any other combination, and if I ever played the lottery, which I don't.)

Hedberg: Yeah, I understand the expected value and all that. But, they don't actually give you 50 cents. They give you 2.5 cents/year for 20 years which is not nearly the same thing. Then, they take away somewhere between $.01 and $.015 for taxes and if you croak before the 20 years is up, they make your estate pay taxes on money you never had. Such a deal.
You are right about all that, especially the bogus way they state the winnings, that is as the sum of the payments over the course of time rather than discounting them to present value. Depending on interest rates at the time, that usually means the true payoff is rarely as much as 2/3 of the stated value, when the money is to be received over the course of 20 years. (And as I know from the b-i-l's experience, you do buy the ticket with after tax dollars, but have your winnings reduced considerably by taxes that are withheld upfront each year. The IRS has no skin in the game, but they are there with their hand out should you win through the judicious picking of the numbers.) But I arrived at my 50 cents on the dollar expectancy based not on that sort of analysis with present value and taxes taken into account; I simply based it on what I believe the state collects and the percentage that is paid out to the lucky few, and I think that is usually around 50%.

Also, let's acknowledge that expectancy isn't everything. The gain or loss of a single dollar might mean nothing to someone, whereas the win of millions of $s might be life transforming. So, as with most insurance products, expectancy isn't the whole story.
3.6.2009 2:24pm
neurodoc:
ruralcounsel: Beats spending $6 to see a movie...
You really are rural, unless you only go to showings before 6PM or get a great senior citizen or military discount.

guest: neurodoc:
okay, okay, i'll be the one. tell us the story of your brother-in-law and your sister after they won the lottery.
First, it is b-i-l and s-i-l, so no genes in common, only an accident/incident of marriage. Second, it is to exasperating for me to tell in detail without the benefit of some alcohol to get me going. Third, one day I may try to write it up, though it would take an O'Henry or a Somerset Maughm to do it right. But if you are really curious, I will give you an address in Hawaii where you can find the ageing surfer dude and ask him him to tell it himself, though lacking altogether in insight he won't be able to give you a full 360 perspective on it. The rest of us watching in disbelieve and dismay can, but he can't, obvious though it is.
3.6.2009 2:34pm
Mycroft (mail):
You're overconfident. 99.9999999999% is by my reckoning 1 in 1 trillion. I'm fairly confident that any given lotto ticket is somewhere between 1000x and 1000000x more likely to win then you give it credit for.
3.6.2009 2:37pm
neurodoc:
[too, not to]

Oh guest, I should add: i) he views it as though the money represented "earnings" rather than "winnings," ii) thinks he deserves some credit for it, though the now ex-wife was the one who settled on the numbers and bought the tickets, and iii) he has intimated that he expects he will win again, though in my book he has already won twice. Anybody in your family, or in your circle of acquaintances, more obtuse than this? (And I haven't told you anything about his approach to "financial planning" for when the payments stop, as they will. He has already sold off part of it, his share after the divorce, at a hefty discount.) If so, I'd like to hear about them.

I do believe that my b-i-l and his family would have been better off if they hadn't won the lottery. (But then I wouldn't have these stories to tell.)
3.6.2009 2:43pm
Dave N (mail):
I'm 99.9999999999% certain of that.
According to Powerball's own website, the odds of winning the grandprize is 1 in 195,249,054 or .00000005121%. To put it the other way, a 99.99999994879% chance of losing. So to be a bit pedantic, the odds are quite as bad as indicated.

Of course, you have a 1 in 62 chance of tripling your money, a 1.62% chance of winning.

Even with those odds, though, I'd rather add $4 to the initial $1 and buy Orin a beer. I would enjoy it more.
3.6.2009 2:54pm
Dave N (mail):
So to be a bit pedantic, the odds aren't quite as bad as indicated.
Preview is my friend.
3.6.2009 2:56pm
Hoosier:
Hedberg

Damn. I thought I'd read somewhere that he had returned from the dead.

"I used to use drugs. I still do, but I used to use them too."
3.6.2009 2:59pm
micdeniro (mail):
This contravenes the maxim, "Losing hurts more than winning feels good."
3.6.2009 3:51pm
lucia (mail) (www):
neurodoc:

About 20 years ago, I shopped for groceries at a store that always showed the lotto winning numbers and listed the number of winners. Having heard many people describe how they picked winning numbers, I thought it might be plausible that the numbers 1-12 are picked more frequently than 13-30 which would be picked more frequently that other numbers.

I tallied for a while. The number of winners splitting the pot did seem to be higher when fewer numbers over 30 were drawn and lower when more numbers under 30 were drawn. However, I didn't do it long enough to make any bold provable claims. (I might have, but we moved and I ended up shopping at a grocery store that didn't sell tickets.)

These days, lots of people let machines pick their numbers, so any effect of people biases toward particular lucky numbers not so strong. The machine doesn't know your birthday, the day you graduated from highshool etc.
3.6.2009 4:09pm
Duffy Pratt (mail):
Of course one problem with this idea is that if you didn't write down the numbers and burned the ticket, you would never know if you held a winning ticket. There can be multiple winners, so just because someone else won doesn't mean that your ticket was a loser. So you need another step in your instructions.

You could always give your ticket to charity, too.
3.6.2009 4:25pm
MartyA:
That simply doesn't make any sense!
3.6.2009 4:59pm
Bretzky (mail):
I think I'll stick to buying a Hershey Bar with my one dollar.
3.6.2009 7:17pm
Michael Ejercito (mail) (www):

I have read stories of lottery winners ending up back down to broke, in divorces, suicides.

I got an e-mail informing me that I won a million pounds at the UK National Lottery.

Maybe I will find out if it is true.
3.6.2009 8:13pm
JohnKT (mail):
Where did David Post get the idea from? My guess is Quine. Someplace he wrote that the best way to win at lottery is not to play.

Raivo Pommer asks: Was sind 100 Milliarden? The book, Innumeracy, John Paulos, gives a graspable illustration. It asks how much time is 1 million seconds, no calculators, just a mental estimate. Turns out, a little more than 11.5 days. Then it asks how much time is 1 billion seconds? No calculators, please. The answer is a little less than 32 years. And now, a trillion, as in the bailouts? 32,000 years.
3.7.2009 8:28am
neurodoc:
Michael Ejercito: I got an e-mail informing me that I won a million pounds at the UK National Lottery.
Congratulations on your good fortune, and do spend it wisely. (I have had this sort of thing happen to me many times, but I have never done what was required to collect, fearing that I wouldn't be able to handle so much unearned wealth.)
3.7.2009 8:56pm

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