Lottery Prize
A Vietnam veteran in need of a kidney transplant unknowingly won $14.3 million in a Megabucks lottery in Madison, Wis. For three days after the Jan. 14 drawing, the winning ticket sat on a table in Napolean Elvord's home unbeknownst to the Vietnam vet. Reuters

Would winning a giant Powerball jackpot ruin you?

The common jest is that becoming suddenly rich might ruin one's life--but it's worth investigating. Jokes aside, does winning the lottery really ultimately result in misery?

There are documented stories of friends and co-workers fighting over the division of the prize, of co-workers expecting a share because they always went in together to buy a ticket except this once, of gambling binges that made millions evaporate, of murder and substance abuse and family feuds.

Is this what is in store for the 20 employees of the Melville, Long Island, Costco store who won the $200 million Powerball jackpot last night?

Probably not.

While some lottery winners over the years have undoubtedly filed bankruptcy, the majority live out their lives normally--perhaps with a bit more comfort, but essentially the same. An article by H. Roy Kaplan in the Journal of Gambling Studies asserts that the myths and stereotypes about lottery winners are false. Kaplan studied 576 people who won lotteries ranging from $50,000 to several million, and found that overall, winners were well-adjusted, secure and generally happy from the experience. Many didn't even quit their jobs--those in low-paying jobs did, but across the board if their jobs were psychologically rewarding, they kept working. Winners did not go on spending sprees but rather gave money to family membes and churches. They went on trips and bought cars and houses.

The eight winners of a $365 million lottery jackpot in Nebraska in 2006 all still live in the state and lead fairly normal lives. There's a common perception that they're working folks and they won't know how to hang onto their money, said Jim Hoppe, the group's attorney. I don't think that's the way it is. They know the value of a dollar and to keep themselves out of trouble.

In report after report, the same rule keeps coming up. There's an easy way to keep a lottery jackpot from ruining your life: Invest and live off the earnings.