‘How winning the lottery ruined my life’

Cheers: Jane Park toasted her win with Irn-Bru because she was too young for champagne. © PA

Jane Park was 17-years-old when she became the UK’s youngest Euromillions winner. Four years later, she says the £1m prize changed her life — for the worse. Now she wants to sue. Why?

‘Are you joking me?’

Jane Park was living in her family’s council house in Edinburgh when she bought her first lottery ticket, aged 17. She had left school and found a job as an office assistant. But then she read her numbers — she had won £1m.

She is now 21. And yesterday she told Sunday People that the money had made her life ‘ten times worse’.

She bought a purple Range Rover but it was ‘flashy and people were always looking at me’. She went on holiday to the Maldives, but everyone was ‘snooty’, and she preferred Benidorm. She offered to pay the travel insurance for a sick boy’s holiday; online trolls accused her of doing it for the publicity.

Most of all, she says, people do not understand the ‘stress’ of becoming so rich so young. Her life is ‘ruined’ and ‘empty’. Now she is considering legal action. ‘I think 18 should be the minimum age for winning the ­lottery, at the least.’

Camelot, which runs Euromillions in Britain, say they have offered her ‘ongoing support’ to help manage her windfall. Sunday People called her comments a ‘breathtaking whinge’.

And yet she is hardly the first wealthy person to be unhappy. Minecraft creator Markus Persson sold his company for £2.5bn in 2014, only to tweet a year later that he was ‘partying with famous people… and I’ve never felt more isolated.’

In 2011, an anonymous survey of the super-rich revealed a litany of anxieties, from being ‘expected to give really good presents’ to having trouble ‘connecting with other people’.

There could be a scientific explanation. In 2010, a group of psychologists found that even looking at large piles of cash causes people to ‘savour’ simple pleasures less.

It is a message often found in literature, too. Jay Gatsby’s riches mean nothing without the woman he loves; Ebenezer Scrooge is miserable until he learns to use his money to help others; when the mythical Greek King Midas wins the power to turn all he touches to gold, he soon realises that it is a curse.

Poor little rich kid

The moral of Jane’s story is simple and timeless, say some: money cannot buy happiness. Being happy means having good friends, a loving family, and taking the time to enjoy the simple things — without worrying about buying the latest handbags or sports cars. It is a lesson we often need to learn again and again.

That is not always true, say others. Psychologists also say that a ‘scarcity mindset’ (ie, being poor) can send people into a spiral of fear and self-loathing. Having money is not the problem — it just has to be spent in the right way. The happiest rich people are those who give generously to others, buy experiences rather than possessions, and find a sense of purpose in life.

You Decide

  1. Do you have sympathy for Jane Park?
  2. Can money buy happiness?

Activities

  1. Write a budget which shows what you would do with £1m if you won the lottery tomorrow.
  2. Recreate your own version of the psychological experiment mentioned in this article. Does thinking about money make people enjoy life less? (You can find more details in the Word Watch and under Become An Expert.)

Some People Say...

“Whoever said money can’t buy happiness simply didn’t know where to go shopping.”

Bo Derek

What do you think?

Q & A

So a rich girl is miserable. So what?
Jane’s story is part of a far bigger discussion. We are constantly being persuaded to buy new things, yet we have all been told that it will not make us happy. So who should we listen to? And although winning the lottery is unlikely, in a few years you will begin to manage your own finances, if you haven’t already. It is worth thinking now about what your priorities ought to be.
How likely am I to win the lottery?
In the UK lottery, you have a one in 45 million chance of picking the six numbers to win the jackpot. To put that into perspective: you are more likely to win an Olympic gold medal (one in 662,000), win an Oscar (one in 11,500) or become an astronaut (one in 12.1 million) — see Become An Expert. Perhaps time to re-think the career plan?

Word Watch

Minimum age
The minimum age to play the lottery in Britain is 16. Camelot responded to Jane’s comments by saying it is a ‘matter for Parliament’.
Survey
This a collaboration between the Boston College’s Center on Wealth and Philanthropy, and the Gates Foundation. A total of 120 households responded, each with a net worth of $25 million or more. You can read some of the comments under Become An Expert.
Psychologists
The study was carried out by the University of Liege. They asked 351 university employees to rate how they would respond to situations like romantic weekends away or finishing an important task. Those who looked at the cash beforehand rated their potential enjoyment less.
Jay Gatsby
From The Great Gatsby by Scott F. Fitzgerald, published in 1925.
Ebenezer Scrooge
From A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, published in 1843. Both novels are now considered classics.
King Midas
According to the myth, the king’s ability turned everything (including food and his own daughter) into gold. He prayed for it to be taken away before retreating to a simple life in the countryside.

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