Does Hope Have a Downside?
Hope and the Individual
As simplistic as the following example seems, on an individual level, we know millions of people engage in a game of hope which carries the potential to change lives – the lottery. According to a 2016 Gallup poll, between 2003 and 2007, about half of Americans polled said within the last year they had played the state lottery ticket. Between 1996 and 1999, 57% of Americans reported they had bought a state lottery ticket (Auter, 2016).
What is more telling, but probably predictable, is that studies of hope and the lottery have shown that poorer people spend a higher percent of their income playing the lottery (Brinner & Clotfelter, 1975; Clotfelter & Cook, 1987, 1989; Livernois, 1987; Spiro, 1974; Suits, 1977, as cited in Haisley, Mostafa, & Loewenstein, 2008). People will cling to hope wherever they can, even with dismal odds. Statistics show that an average 3% of income was spent on the lottery by households earning less than $10,000 on average annually (Clotfelter, Cook, Edell, & Moore, 1999, as cited in Haisley, Mostafa, & Loewenstein, 2008).
Another similar study was conducted on the belief that “low-income individuals may feel that their low standing in society prevents them from having the same opportunities as those with higher socioeconomic status. A game of chance, in a sense, levels the playing field and gives the poor the same opportunity to win as everyone else” (Haisley, Mostafa, & Loewenstein, 2008, p. 285). In other words, the lottery and similar activities give people hope.
Chris Guillebeau, a New York Times bestselling author, believes there is value in the kind of hope that activities like playing the lottery encourages, as long as that hope is tempered. He states, “But in your lottery fantasy, where you spend a brief moment thinking about what it would be like to receive that oversized check, you hope for it. Your hope is not based on rationality, but that’s okay. Hope is a choice. There is value in hope alone” (Guillebeau, 2019). Of course, most people probably know deep down, with the extremely lows odds of winning the lottery or receiving any other similar windfall, effort is still needed to solve their problems and make their hopes come true.