Anxiety ahead! Why it's OK if you don't win the Mega Millions jackpot

Two huge lottery jackpots are up for grabs this weekend. Such sudden wealth is especially hard for people to wrap their heads around, psychologists say.
by A. Pawlowski /  / Updated  / Source: TODAY

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Life is about to get a whole lot more complicated for anyone who wins Friday's $1 billion Mega Millions jackpot, or Saturday's $430 million Powerball prize.

You may think all your problems will vanish if you strike it rich, but James Grubman has seen what a mixed blessing sudden affluence can be. He’s a wealth psychologist, counseling millionaires about personal issues, like family squabbles, identity crises and dilemmas over raising responsible children. His clients include lottery winners.

Why would anyone living in the land of "champagne wishes and caviar dreams,” as Robin Leach famously used to shout, experience any stresses? The truth is everything changes when you have so much money. Sudden wealth is especially hard for people to wrap their heads around.

“You just really can’t imagine the reality. You have to gradually get to know it,” Grubman, whose practice is based in Turners Falls, Massachusetts, told TODAY.

“What most people think is that wealth buys you relief from the stresses you now have. But it (also) brings you new ones.”

Here are some of the issues the country’s newest billionaire might struggle with:

Get ready for a new job: Watching your money

It can take a lot of effort to handle that amount of wealth, Grubman said. You have to find and deal with trusted advisers, figure out how much you want to give to your family and make decisions about charity and philanthropy.

“One of the hallmarks of great wealth is its complexity and people are often unprepared for handling and understanding that complexity,” Grubman said.

Even with that much money, there are hazards ahead if you don't keep a cool head: Lottery winners are more likely to declare bankruptcy within three to five years than the average American, one study found.

What are you going to do now?

The first thing you probably want to do is sing “Take This Job and Shove It” to your boss and many lottery winners do indeed quit their jobs.

When they do, the question arises: What’s your new purpose going to be?

“People often think, ‘I’m just going to stop working and I’ll be able to quit my job,’” Grubman said. “But what they don’t think about is: After you have a vacation for a while, what are you going to do? And how are you going to demonstrate to your children and grandchildren that you still work in a purposeful way?”

Your relationships may get tense

Yes, people will come out of the woodwork to ask you for money.

You may want to share some of your bounty, but at some point you also have to be able to say "no" and that can be very hard, Grubman said.

The huge amount of money can also change your dynamic with your loved ones.

“It can be a great strain to most close relationships, especially marriages,” he noted. “If you have a husband who wants to dive right in and a wife who wants to preserve the old ways, that’s a recipe for conflict.”

You feel like an 'immigrant'

In his book “Strangers in Paradise: How Families Adapt to Wealth Across Generations,” Grubman makes the analogy that coming to wealth from the middle class or working class is like being an immigrant in a new country. It’s almost like you migrate to a different economic culture.

“All they focus on is getting there, but they don’t understand what life is going to be like once they’re there,” he said.

“You do leave behind the problems of your old life, but life everywhere has its problems and challenges — they just change.”

You feel you don’t belong anywhere

With that much wealth, you’ll probably move to a bigger house in a different neighborhood or part of the world. You’ll probably find you no longer have many things in common with your friends.

For people who want to hold on to their old life in some way, it means being a “straddler,” or keeping a foot in both worlds. But straddling your old and new life is much more difficult than people expect, Grubman said.

One client told him: “When I’m with my old friends and my family, I am part of that world, but I’m no longer fully part of that world. And yet when I’m with my new friends, I still don’t feel like I belong there either. Who am I and where do I belong?”

It took her years to figure out how to find the right balance, he said.

You expect money to make you happy

Money creates opportunities for pleasure, but you have to understand the difference between pleasure and happiness. When you have millions, you can start a career that fits you much better than your old job or take a luxury trip to Bora Bora, but that won’t necessarily change how you feel inside.

“Wealth can buy you many ways to give you pleasure. Happiness comes from within,” Grubman said.

A recent study found large-prize lotto winners experienced a boost in life satisfaction, but the effect on their happiness and mental health was much smaller.

You move too fast

If you win Friday, don’t rush into anything and make no major decisions for at least six months, Grubman said.

The best way to keep psychologically healthy is to continue as many of your old habits as possible and make changes gradually, he added. Secure a good lawyer and an expert wealth manager.

“Go to work the next day. People are surprised, but the thing is so many things are going to change that it can be helpful to keep some things the same,” Grubman advised.

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