Should you play the lottery? Should you watch sports?

I told you before how you should play the lottery:

Now the question comes – should you or should you not play the lottery?

Strictly rationally, playing the lottery is a poor investment. Your chances of winning are smaller than the risk of losing. Strictly economically, you shouldn’t play the lottery.

Why should you do it, then? Because of the feelings of:

“Hmm, I might win the lottery. Hmm, how would this feel? Hmm, perhaps I’d like it. Hmm, a winner, I can only imagine! Oh, how I would spend the money. I would buy this and that and I would be so happy”.

Thinking about winning the lottery may produce in you the same feelings as winning it. And, thus, it’s worth paying each week 3 euros for these feelings.

This may explain why lottery players tend to play a small amount each week. Theoretically, they could put a large sum of money at once, and not play for half a year. But this would deprive them of their happiness source. The feelings must be reinforced each time.

It’s all about the placebo.

Watching football is similar. You know you will, most likely, never be in an actual match of Barcelona team against Real Madrid. You will only watch the game on TV, never using the information you got. You may not even play into a second league football team in Romania in a friendly match. Thus, knowing perfectly how Vaslui team plays will give you no advantage in real life (how do you use sports strategies? Having a very rare example when you do use it only shows that these examples are very rare, thus irrelevant). But, boy, oh boy, the images that rush in you when you see your favorites, imagining yourself you’re actually there, you could score a goal, these stick in you. You are happy when your team (representing, on a large scale, you) wins, and you wait for the whole game for a recovery when your team loses. Emotions rush in you in a football game, even though the fate of the match should not concern you.

Strictly rationally, watching sports is a waste of everything – time (a lot), money (some), effort (some). As an irony, due to loss of opportunities, you may actually have physical problems for watching sports (you don’t exercise, because you don’t have the time anymore, and you associate watching sports with poor foods and drinks). Rationally, you shouldn’t watch sports (the benefits, like understanding the principles behind a game, are far smaller than the losses).

You will never practically use the rational parts of a game when watching it. But you’ll enjoy it, nevertheless, as a placebo.

Both placebo work – I’ve seen people who are genuinely happier, perhaps due to this (although correlation does not imply causation). The lottery asks for a small amount of money each week (plus some time to go and buy the tickets) and gives you the expectations of winning, while football asks for time and small investments while watching it at home, and larger investments (of both time and money) when you watch it in a football stadium, and gives you back a variety of emotions during a game.

Lotteries help reinforce the placebo by having certain periodicity – each week there are events at the Lottery, you can play with a certain repetition pattern. Football watchers help reinforce the placebo by choosing a favorite, with witch you attach. You like Vaslui, and no other team in Romania. You like Chelsea and no other team in England. You like Juventus, and no other team in Italy. When you watch a match with teams from South America, even if you have no prior personal favorite, you pick one. “Oh, I like Argentina, they’re my favorites”. And if they score, you’re happy, and if they lose, you’re sad. Thus, you reinforce the placebo.

There are other things, too: you can see the lottery balls with numbers (they’re physical,  you can imagine the process of picking 6 successful numbers), most lottery winners are announced public. In sports, there is a lot of emphasis on “your team” – the team for Romania (country), the team for Constanza (county), the team for Năvodari (town). In schools, there’s the “high-school team”. It’s “my team”, the team I know. Lots of emphasis on “national” – anthem, flag, patriotism. It’s “my team”, I should watch it.

Also, do you know anyone who wants to see a rematch? So, the game was last night at 11 PM, you didn’t watch it, you can see it on a computer today.

“But I’m not there, how can I attach to the match if it’s not ‘live’? How can I be there if the match was last night. Ah, you don’t fool me!”

The final question: should you do it – should you watch sports and play the lottery? Yes, if your pleasure and benefits exceed costs. Don’t think rational about the choice, the rational choice is irrelevant for the current context. Go for emotions, instead.

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