Why You Should Buy a Powerball Lottery Ticket Today

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The Powerball lottery drawing for Wednesday evening currently has an estimated jackpot of $1.4 billion, which equates to a cash value of roughly $868 million. The group that runs the lottery – The Multi-State Lottery Association – estimates the odds at winning the grand prize at 1 in 292,201,338.

Quite possibly the best part of the Powerball jackpot reaching such absurd levels is the cascade of inevitable bizarre probability comparisons that statisticians and journalists seek out. You have better odds of hitting a hole-in-one on back-to-back par 3s, being crushed by a vending machine, becoming the president of the United States and being killed by a random airplane part falling out the sky. My favorite may be that you are far more likely to be struck by lightning while drowning than to win the Powerball.

Of course, such probabilities are used to highlight the extreme odds of certain events happening, although statisticians tend to avoid suggesting that anything is impossible. Take Peter McCathie, for example. In July, the Canadian man won a $1 million Lotto 6/49 prize several decades after surviving a lightning strike. The odds of both winning a lottery and being stuck by lightning was estimated at 1 in 2.6 trillion.

As far as winning the Powerball on Wednesday, you have similar odds as flipping a quarter and having it land on heads 28 times in a row, according to Jeffrey Miecznikowski, associate professor of biostatistics at the University at Buffalo.

“The probability is so small, dare say impossible,” Miecznikowski said in an interview with the Associated Press. “It’s like trying to count electrons or drops of water in the ocean or grains of sand in the world. We just can’t imagine these types of things.”

That glimmer of hope, however slight it may be, may be enough to warrant rolling the dice and buying a ticket. Here’s why: the anticipation involved can elevate your level of happiness. A good analogy, at least at my house, would be Christmas. Several months ago, my son, an avid Lego fan and a want-to-be gamer, asked Santa Claus for an Xbox One console and a Lego Ninjago Tread Assault. Given the combined cost would have exceeded $550, the odds of my son receiving both presents from Santa were far worse than your odds of winning the Powerball.

Even so, he derived a significant amount of pleasure in thinking about what he would do if Santa actually brought him those gifts. We had several discussions of how the Tread Assault would round out his Ninjago collection, going so far as to show me where he would park the vehicle at night before bedtime. He also directed me to the video game section at Target several times to point out which games he wanted to play once the Xbox One arrived. If you are thinking that line of thinking is just child’s play, think again.

In their book “Happy Money,” Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Dunn note that the French use the verb se rejouir to describe the human ability of deriving pleasure in the present by anticipating the future. In the same way that a college student may endure a panic attack leading up to a semester final or a child may cringe in the moments before an immunization shot, the reverse holds true for positive developments. It’s why some say the seduction of sex is often better than the act itself.

Once money is introduced into the equation, it’s a source of pleasure that comes free with purchase prior to consumption. How often do you book a vacation and then spend hours in advance daydreaming about the trip and planning excursions, dinners and sunburns? There’s significant happiness value in those activities that most of us overlook.

Consider this quote by Barbara Messing, TripAdvisor’s chief marketing officer, in “Happy Money”: “I think of TripAdvisor as being in the happiness business. We are really upstream in the planning process, and I believe that people derive as much pleasure from that phase as from the trip itself. It’s the dreaming phase, the fantasizing phase, when they think about how great the tapas and the sangria are going to taste.”

By purchasing a lottery ticket, you become an active participant in the drawing for $1.4 billion dollars. Despite the astronomical odds, there is a chance that you win, which invites a flood of ideas as to how to spend such a ridiculous amount of money. Just be sure to purchase your Powerball ticket as soon as possible. The happiness boost will not kick in until the ticket is in hand, meaning the longer you wait, the less amount of time to daydream before the winning numbers are announced.

photo credit: Lotto via photopin (license)

Greg

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