'Be careful what you wish for': What it’s really like to win the lottery
‘You think you know what you’re going to do when you win the lottery,’ says former Lotto millionaire Ben*. ‘But you don’t.’
He should know.
One minute, Ben was a normal family man with a successful career. Next, he was leaving the National Lottery office in Aintree with an envelope stuffed full of cash and an overflowing bank account.
‘My life changed overnight,’ he recalls. ‘There was so much adrenaline and excitement. But then I was suddenly exhausted and my mind was racing. I was thinking “What am I going to do with all this cash?”’
Ben, whose name has been changed to protect his family, won a seven-figure sum in the National Lottery a decade ago. But the life-changing amount of money destroyed the world as he knew it.
To be fair, he did what many of us would do in his situation; went on holiday and started spending. He set up an account with luxury bank Coutts and fell in love with the lottery lifestyle. He bought cars, trips, nice clothes and gadgets. He put his three kids in private school, got a cleaning lady and gave up his job.
Ben was flying high. And then he crashed.
‘The problem for me was that I wasn’t happy with my life when I won. So instead of improving things, the cash just exacerbated the problems I already had,’ he admits. ‘
That can happen when you have a life-changing amount of money suddenly arriving in your bank account out of nowhere.
‘If you have a bit of a drink problem, and you booze at home quite aggressively, if you’ve decided you’re not going to work any more, you’re going to drink every day. You may have been in a situation before where you thought, “I can’t get another 10 cans of beer – I can’t afford it and I’ve got to go to work in the morning”. If you’ve won the lottery, you can. And so you do. There is nothing stopping you.’
Soon, Ben thought nothing of drinking two bottles of wine a night, which coupled with rich food and a lack of exercise, saw him gain weight.
‘In the daytime, I would sit around, read the paper and watch Homes Under the Hammer,’ he remembers. ‘I had all this time on my hands and I did nothing with it. I just became quite lazy. I wasn’t looking after myself.
‘Suddenly the day would be gone. I look back now and think, I could have done so much with that time. I regret not being more grown up and sensible about it.’
Although he had planned to make more cash investing in stocks and shares, Ben found himself out of his depth and lacking motivation.
‘I didn’t set myself up properly,’ he admits. ‘I didn’t feel like I needed to earn a load of money as I already had so much in the bank, so I didn’t. And then suddenly it was too late and the money was gone. What a waste of time.’
With over 4,000 millionaires made since the National Lottery began in 1994, the ongoing debate on whether winning the big cash prize can actually bring you happiness is a complicated one.
A recent study by three Swedish economists – Erik Lindqvist, Robert Östling, and David Cesarini – looked at the long term psychological effects of big lottery wins. Their findings revealed that the overall life satisfaction of those who won over £75,000 was significantly higher than that of small winners. However, research also highlighted that winning a large amount of money in the lottery didn’t actually have much significant impact on winners’ happiness.
They also discovered that a big win wouldn’t improve a winner’s current mental health either.
There are, of course, cases where becoming a millionaire overnight has led to happiness and financial stability. For exmaple, Sharon and Nigel Mather from Manchester won over £12 million in 2010 and regularly donate to charity and took care not to blow all their winnings.
Meanwhile Bev Middleton said that winning over £14 million on the Euromillions in 2017 afforded her the opportunity send her son, who struggled socially, to private school – which saw an end to the bullying he’d previously suffered.
However, Ben is certainly not alone in his experience of finding life as a lottery millionaire far more difficult than he could ever have imagined. A number of winners in recent years have also seen their mental health nosedive and their personal lives in ruin as they struggled with huge amounts of cash.
One of the most tragic cases is that of 56-year-old Margaret Loughrey, who was found dead in her bungalow in Strabane, Northern Ireland in September. She had won nearly £27,000,000 in the EuroMillions in 2013, but suffered dreadfully after the jackpot win brought her ‘nothing but grief’. She gave much of the cash away before cutting herself off from her family and refusing medical help in the weeks before her death.
Meanwhile, Michael Carroll became known as the ‘Lotto lout’ when he won £9.7 million in the National Lottery in 2002. Aged just 19 when he bought the £1 ticket, he wasted millions on cocaine, gambling and drinking two bottles of vodka a day. He was jailed for nine months for affray in 2006 and was declared bankrupt a few years later. He now reportedly works as a coal miner seven days a week.
In 2003, Callie Rogers was the youngest lottery winner when she took home £1.8 million at just 16. At the time, she found the lifestyle and publicity overwhelming. She gave a lot of the cash away and was taken advantage of by so-called friends, while also spending thousands on drugs and alcohol.
In the end Callie, who suffered with depression for years and made two attempts on her life, was left with very little. Now, 33, she works as a carer in Workington, Cumbria, and has described herself as the happiest she has ever been.
Professor Paul McGee, is one of the UK’s leading speakers on the subject of change and says lottery winners are sold a dream that becoming a millionaire will solve all their problems, but the reality is much more complicated.
‘A lot of us have a view that if we get a lot of money, then it will solve all our problems. But the reality is that it can create a lot more problems in your life,’ he says. ‘If you were to give everyone in Britain now a million pounds, you would think everyone would be happy – but they wouldn’t. You would still have social issues. Many people within a year would have wasted all that money. Others would have used it as a short-term fix to have a certain feeling.’
Paul, co-author of The Happiness Revolution, adds: ‘A lot of lottery winners believe that if you get the car, and you get the house, then you will be happy. And yet all the research says that one of the keys to your happiness is relationships.’
Having worked with premier league footballers and multimillionaires, Paul’s experience is that it’s often money that causes problems with relationships. Jealousy can disrupt friendships, people can develop ulterior motives, family members can become more demanding and relationships change, he explains.
‘For lottery winners, if you go public you are bombarded with people who are after your money,’ he says. ‘People befriend you because of the cash – not because you are a person they wanted to know.
‘It is our relationships which are crucial to our wellbeing, not money. There are people who are relatively poor but they have good family and good friendship networks and they are far more fulfilled.’
‘For all of us, the things that make us happy are meaning, a sense of purpose, belonging and connection. Money can give you that impression of belonging but actually you’re not.’
Having more cash can also lead to more excess, be that in drinking, drugs or shopping, which can create feelings of negativity, Paul adds. ‘People believe “when I have enough money for everything I want, the emptiness I feel inside me will be filled” – but you can’t do that with material goods.
‘So when you get the big car and the nice home, you think that will be enough. But you get used to it and you’re still unfulfilled. That’s when you get into addiction.’
In psychology, this is referred to as the hedonic treadmill, with the theory that an individual’s level of happiness – after rising in response to a positive life event – ultimately tends to move back toward where it was prior to these experiences. So while winning the lottery may provide a temporary buzz, all those existing unresolved issues are still there.
Like Callie and Michael, Ben also lost everything and found himself back where he started. He says: ‘I had all this cash and I said to myself, you’ve got all this money – don’t f*** it up. And what did I do? I f***ed it up.
‘I lived a luxurious life. You’d be amazed at how quickly you can get through a s***-tonne of cash.
‘I gave up my job. I went on holiday when I liked. I did what I wanted, whenever I wanted. I was planning to make everything back. But I made some bad business moves. I was just comfortable spending money thinking I was going to make more. But it was an absolute disaster.
What actually happens after you win millions in the lottery
It would be easy to start listing what you would do if you won – but contrary to expectation, you’re not just handed millions of pounds to fritter away on beach villas and champagne.
If you are lucky enough to scoop the big prize there is a whole process to help you make good decisions about your money and help you through the drastic transition to becoming a millionaire.
Lottery adviser Andy Carter has exclusively laid out each step for Metro.co.uk: from the moment you are told about your life-changing win, right up to using private jets as your mode of transport.
Read more here…
‘I was taking too much money out of the pot. It wasn’t sustainable over a long period of time. That is when you realise what you’ve had. And how fragile it is. When it is taken away from you. It disappeared quickly. I didn’t realise how quickly my investments would drop off the edge of a mountain.’
When the money started to disappear, Ben says he would wake up in the night in a cold sweat. But after losing everything, he went back to work and started his life over, with a strange sense of relief.
‘I thought – How did I end up here? With nothing apart from a couple of empty bottles of booze and a story to tell, it was really tough. But emotionally I just tried to compartmentalise it. I put it to one side and started again.’
Content with his lot now, Ben admits that he does have some happy memories of spending the money – along with a number of regrets.
‘I wish I had gone and lived abroad for a while. I wish I’d done more with it,’ he says. ‘The best way to describe winning the lottery is that it magnifies absolutely everything. It is that old adage – be careful what you wish for. Because when you get everything you want, what do you work for?
‘Having everything can mean you don’t know what to do with your life. Winning the lottery changes you in a way that you don’t expect. I became so absolutely terrified of losing the money that I didn’t actually enjoy having it and I still lost the money. I didn’t make the most of it.
‘Having that much cash definitely brings out your demons. They say money can’t buy happiness and I don’t think it does. It can help you be more happy if you are already. But if you’re unhappy, it won’t – it will just paper over the cracks.’
*name has been changed
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