Sonja Lyubomirsky, psychology professor at the University of California–Riverside and author of "The Myths of Happiness," explains the relationship further. "Money can make you happy, but it depends on how you spend it," she writes in an e-mail. "If you spend it on experiences that allow you to connect with others (e.g., travel with your son), contribute to your community (e.g., donate to a battered women shelter) or experience personal growth (e.g., learn a new language), then winning the lottery will make you happier. Also, if more money keeps you from being poor (or unhealthy or hungry or unsafe), then it will definitely make you happier."
[See: 8 Ways to Become an Optimist.]
And yet, humans struggle with short-term memories and the lure of instant gratification. "We know that it's good to give, and we've had good experiences with giving, but if I just find $20 on the street, I kind of want to spend it on myself," Norton says. It's like knowing that eating right and exercising are good for you, but you opt for the pizza and the couch regardless, he says.
Year's end, however, is a great time to rethink your spending and invest your resources in making memories and the feel-good effects of helping others, Norton says, but "even small amounts of gifts already start to pay off in happiness."
[Read: Try One of These 11 Good Deeds.]
By these measures, it seems another lottery winner may have seized the windfall's real power. Amid this week's buzz about the Mega Millions tickets came a different spin on the subject – reports that Tom Crist, a wealthy Calgary executive, would donate all of his $40 million winnings from a lottery in western Canada to charity. Crist, who recently lost his wife to cancer, has already donated more than $1 million to the Tom Baker Cancer Centre, where his wife was treated.
"I did very well for myself. I've done enough that I can look after myself, for my kids, so they can get looked after into the future. I don't really need that money," Crist told CBC News.