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Arrive without travelling: A brief look at “destination addiction”

Today’s blog has absolutely nothing to do with one of my previous blogs on being “addicted to travel”. The other day I was on Facebook when one of my friends posted a graphic with the following quote:

“Beware of Destination Addiction – a preoccupation with the idea that happiness is in the next place, the next job and with the next partner. Until you give up the idea that happiness is somewhere else, it will never be where you are”

Not only did I like the quote but it also caught my attention because the word “addiction” was used in it. I quickly Googled the term ‘destination addiction’ and was surprised to find a number of articles on the topic (but unfortunately nothing published in an academic journal). The term ‘destination addiction’ was coined by Dr. Robert Holden (a British psychologist the Director of The Happiness Project and Success Intelligence) in his 2011 book Authentic Success: Essential Lessons and Practices from the World’s Leading Coaching Program on Success Intelligence (an updated version of his 2009 book Success Intelligence). In a blog extracted from his book, Dr. Holden wrote:

“Do you live your life only to get to the end of it? Most people answer this question with a ‘no’, but not everyone lives like they mean it. In the manic society that most of us experience, people exhibit a frantic, neurotic behavior I call ‘Destination Addiction’. This addiction is a major block to success. People who suffer from Destination Addiction believe that success is a destination. They are addicted to the idea that the future is where success is, happiness is, and heaven is. Each passing moment is merely a ticket to get to the future. They live in the ‘not now’, they are psychologically absent, and they disregard everything they have. Destination Addiction is a preoccupation with the idea that happiness is somewhere else. We suffer, literally, from the pursuit of happiness. We are always on the run, on the move, and on the go. Our goal is not to enjoy the day, it is to get through the day. We have always to get to somewhere else first before we can relax and before we can savor the moment. But we never get there. There is no point of arrival. We are permanently dissatisfied. The feeling of success is continually deferred. We live in hot pursuit of some extraordinary bliss we have no idea how to find”.

From an addiction perspective, there is little in the description that would lead me to call this behaviour an addiction by my own criteria apart from the idea of being totally preoccupied with the behaviour (which for me is one of the core components of addiction that I term ‘salience’). Holden then goes on to list some of the symptoms of destination addiction which I’ve reproduced below verbatim:

  • “Whatever you are doing, you are always thinking about what comes next.
  • You cannot afford to stop because you always have to be somewhere else.
  • You are always in a hurry even when you don’t need to be.
  • You always promise that next year you will be less busy.
  • Your dream home is always the next home you plan to buy.
  • You don’t like your job but it has good prospects for the future.
  • You never commit fully to anything in case something better comes along.
  • You hope the next big success will finally make you happy.
  • You always think you should be further ahead of where you are now.
  • You have so many forecasts, projections, and targets that you never enjoy your life”.

There is nothing in this list ‘symptoms’ that relates to symptoms of addiction in any way but that doesn’t mean that Holden has not hit upon something – it’s just not something that I would call an addiction. Holden also claims that destination addicts “celebrate the end of the day”, and look forward to the weekends so that they can recover (in short, they are the kind of people who say to themselves “Thank God it’s Friday”). Holden also notes:

“The life we dream of is in the future somewhere, and we hope to catch up with it any day now. Destination Addiction causes us to rush through as many experiences as quickly as possible. We like to be able to say ‘Been there, done that!’… Surely, life is not all about endings. If it were, we would read only abridged novels; we would attend only the final act of a play at the theater; the last note of a symphony would be best of all; the best restaurants would serve only petits fours; and sex would have no foreplay. Destination Addiction is an attempt to get on with life faster in the hope that we will enjoy our lives better. And yet our constant speeding means we frequently run past golden opportunities for grace and betterment…We seek, but we do not find…Our Destination Addiction often works against us, however, because we are too busy running to be receptive. Hence, we always feel empty…The other meaning is “the purpose,” i.e., your vision, your values, etc. The trouble with Destination Addiction is that it focuses purely on finishes and not on purpose. To live intelligently is to live with purpose, to make the means the end, and also the end the means. The end is in every moment”.

Other articles on destination addiction talk about it being obsessive and compulsive. For instance, an article by Beverley Glick says that “people who have destination addiction are compulsively trying to get somewhere or something that’s perpetually in the future” whereas an article on the Elements Behavioral Health website notes that musings on the choices we have made in our day-to-day life can turn to obsession and that our “daydreams can become self-sabotaging”. The article also claims that:

“For those prone to addictive thought patterns and behaviors, destination addiction is the perfect setup for failure. Trading short-term gratification for the eventual fallout is a component of destination addiction. Getting lost in destination addiction can be as easy as plugging your goals into [Dr. Robert Holden’s] description that ‘happiness is the next hit, the next high, the next acquisition, the next drink, the next orgasm, the next hot-fudge sundae, the next 10-pound weight loss’. Is your mind overactive with ‘the grass is greener’ thinking? Do you sigh in frustration that you aren’t living the life you imagined?”

Dr. Holden claimed on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2008 that destination addiction affects “millions” of individuals and in another blog on destination addiction entitled ‘Are you the tortoise or the hare?’, Holden claimed:

“[Destination addicts] are hypercritical and are forever ‘should-ing’ on themselves – ‘I should be further in my career by now’, ‘I should have gotten married by now’, or ‘I should have achieved more by now’. Destination Addiction causes us to be permanently impatient with ourselves. The schedule we set for ourselves is so demanding that we end up driving ourselves harder and faster. We refuse to forgive ourselves if we cannot keep up…We have no time for ourselves, and we are permanently impatient with everyone else…We are permanently impatient because we are addicted to the pursuit of progress. What is progress? According to Destination Addiction, to progress is to move along a timeline from ‘here’ to ‘there’ as quickly as possible. But to what end? Impatience impedes real progress if the focus is only on getting to the future faster. Real progress is a real-time goal that is about the here and now – living well today, being more present, caretaking this moment, and enjoying the time of your life”.

To me, what Holden is trying to promote is living in the now, living in the moment, in other words a form of mindfulness (something I have discussed in a number of my previous blogs and something which I have been carrying out research into with Dr. Edo Shonin and William Van Gordon). Another online article about destination addiction (on the Frugal Dad website) implies that shopping addiction might be symptomatic of destination addiction:

“[Destination addiction] is this never-ending pursuit of happiness that drives us to spend more and more money on things. But things do not bring joy. Things bring worry. Things bring temporary happiness that masks some deeper pain.  For instance, those who consider themselves ‘emotional spenders’ don’t really have a spending problem. They are using shopping as a way of putting on an emotional Band-Aid to make some other kind of pain go away, much in the same way someone who overeats does so to combat depression, or loneliness.  It usually isn’t about the enjoyment of overindulging in foods, or purses”.

The article then goes on to describe so-called “destination dealers” that have helped the addiction “spread quickly” (i.e., those on television trying to sell you products that can help you “totally change your life” or “make you happier than you ever dreamed possible”. More specifically:

“Cars are often depicted as the path to a happier life in commercials, as if the built-in navigation system, iPod docking station, and push-button ignition will really make you happier than the $600 monthly payments.  But, we get hooked at an early age and chase these various ‘destinations’ our entire lives.  A bigger home, a newer car, fancier clothing, more exquisite jewelry–nothing is ever simply enough. Fortunately, there is an excellent home remedy for destination addiction, but it is often hard to find. When we declare ourselves content with what we have and who we are we can beat the addiction of waiting to be happy.  We can live quite happily in the now. Through contentment we can be happy with this house, and this car, and these clothes, and beat the cravings for more”…happiness comes from within; it is not something that can be pursued”.

This is echoed in an online article on destination addiction by Connie Mann:

“Happiness never comes from a destination. Happiness is a choice we make, every day, no matter where we are. It comes from recognizing that circumstances don’t bring happiness, things don’t bring happiness, achievements don’t bring happiness. Happiness comes from inside us, from an attitude of thanksgiving…If we get too focused on tomorrow, we can fall into a dangerous trap”.

Another recent online article on destination addiction by Toya Sharee claimed that “social media and an era of excess make a major contribution to this epidemic of destination addiction”. She also said (in line with some of the other comments mentioned above) that:

“None of us are immune to destination addiction and we all have times where we have to convince ourselves that better times are ahead just to make it through the day. But the key to defeating destination addiction is to find happiness with the life you have and to achieve the goals that are important to YOU, not the ones you think will impress everyone else”.

I’ll leave you with the words of philosopher and author Henry David Thoreau that also recalls the concept of mindfulness but who Beverley Glick cited in her article on whether there is a cure for destination addiction: “You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment”.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Elements Behavioral Health (2016). Destination addiction. Located at: https://www.elementsbehavioralhealth.com/addiction/destination-addiction/

Frugal Dad (2009). Do you suffer from destination addiction. January 5. Located at: http://www.frugaldad.com/do-you-suffer-from-destination-addiction/

Glick, B. (2011). Is there a cure for destination addiction. Pearl Within. Located at: http://pearlwithin.tumblr.com/post/17710986467/is-there-a-cure-for-destination-addiction

Holden, R. (2010). Are you the tortoise of the hare? Heal Your Life, August 30. Located at: http://www.healyourlife.com/are-you-the-tortoise-or-the-hare

Holden, R. (2011). Authentic Success: Essential Lessons and Practices from the World’s Leading Coaching Program on Success Intelligence. London: Hay House.

Holden, R. (2015). What is destination addiction? How to stop thinking about what comes next. Located at: http://www.robertholden.org/blog/what-is-destination-addiction/

Mann, C. (2014). Beware of destination addiction. August 2. http://www.conniemann.com/beware-of-destination-addiction/

Sharee, T. (2016). Are you suffering destination addiction? XoNecole, February 16. Located at: http://xonecole.com/destination-addiction/

Substance For You (2016). Destination addiction. Located at: http://substanceforyou.com/destination-addiction/

Whyte, D. (2016). Destination addiction. January 13. Located at: http://pearlwithin.tumblr.com/post/17710986467/is-there-a-cure-for-destination-addiction

The prize and lows: What is the effect of winning large jackpots on human behaviour?

Over the last two decades I have written a lot of research papers about the structural characteristics of gambling and their effect on subsequent human behaviour. One of the most basic structural characteristics that may determine whether someone gambles on a particular type of game in the first place is the size of the jackpot that a game has to offer. Most of the research in this area has been carried out on lottery gambling as this form of gambling tends to have the largest jackpots. However, there is no reason to assume that these general findings should not be any different in other types of gambling such as winning a million dollars on a slot machine.

As I have noted in some of my previous blogs, structural characteristics in gambling are typically those features of a game that are responsible for reinforcement, may satisfy gamblers’ needs and may (for some ‘vulnerable’ players) facilitate excessive gambling. Such features include the event frequency of the game, jackpot size, stake size, the probability of winning, and the use of ‘near misses’ and other ‘illusion of control’ elements. By identifying particular structural characteristics it is possible for researchers (and the gaming industry) to see how needs are identified, to see how information about gambling is perceived, and to see how thoughts about gambling are influenced.

Showing the existence of such relationships has great practical importance as potentially ‘risky’ forms of gambling can be identified. Furthermore, by identifying particular structural characteristics it may be possible to understand more about gambling motivations and behaviour, which can have useful clinical, academic and commercial implications. It has been widely accepted that structural characteristics have a role in the acquisition, development, and maintenance of gambling behaviour. However, it would appear that the role of structural characteristics has become even more significant within the past decade and has led to increased empirical research on structural gaming features.

One of the main reasons that people gamble is that it provides the chance of winning money. But does winning large amounts of money actually make people happy? People often dream about winning large life changing amounts of money on games like a national lottery. The winners hopefully look forward to a long life of everlasting happiness although studies have found that lottery winners are euphoric very briefly before they settle back to their normal level of happiness or unhappiness. This is because happiness is relative. There is a popular belief by some psychologists that in the long run, winning large amounts of money on gambling activities will not make someone happy. Researchers who study happiness say that everyone has a certain level of happiness that stays relatively constant but can be changed by particular events that make the person happy or sad.

Thankfully, this change only lasts for a short period of time. For instance, if someone is a generally happy person and a close relative dies, research shows that after a few months or so, the person will go back to the same happiness level that they were previously. However, this works the other way too. If a person is not very happy in their day-to-day life, they could win a large amount of money gambling and they would probably be happy for a couple months but then they would ‘level out’ and go back to life at their normal unhappiness level.

Back in 1978, research by Dr. Phillip Brickman and his colleagues in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology compared a sample of 22 major lottery winners with 22 controls and also with a group of 29 paralysed accident victims. They found that major lottery winners were no happier than control groups. Another 1994 study by Dr. G. Eckblad and Dr. A. von der Lippe (in the Journal of Gambling Studies) investigated 261 Norwegian lottery winners who had won more than one million Norwegian Krone (approximately £100,000). There were few typical emotional reactions to winning apart from moderate happiness and relief. Their gambling was modest both before and after winning the lottery and their experiences with winning were almost all positive. The researchers reported that their quality of life was stable or had improved. They concluded that their results support earlier research by Dr. Roy Kaplan (also published in the Journal of Gambling Studies) who found that that lottery winners are not gamblers, but self-controlled realists.

One of the infamous questions in social science is whether money makes people happy. In 2001, Dr. Jonathan Gardner and Dr. Andrew Oswald carried out a longitudinal study on the psychologicalhealth and reported happiness of approximately 9,000 randomly chosen people. Their research reported that those whoreceived financial windfalls (i.e., by large gambling wins or receiving an inheritance) hadhigher mental wellbeing in the following year. In another longitudinal data study on a random sample of Britons who received medium-sized lottery wins of between £1000 and £120,000, the same authors compared lottery winners with two control groups (one with no gambling wins and the other with small gambling wins). They reported that big lottery winners went on to exhibit significantly better psychological health. Two years after a lottery win there was an improvement in mental wellbeing using the General Health Questionnaire. Other data (published in 2009) have also been analysed by Dr. Benedict Apouey and Dr. Andrew Clark who also found increased health benefits among lottery winners when compared to non-lottery winners. However, they also showed that lottery winners also drank and smoked more socially than non-lottery winners. Similar findings that lottery winners have better health indicators have also been reported by other researchers (such as Dr. Mikael Lindahl in a 2005 issue of the Journal of Human Resources).

On a more practical day-to-day level, most of the research on big winners has shown that their lives are much better as a result of their life changing wins but there are always a few winners who find other problems occur as a result of their instant wealth. They may give up their jobs and move to a more luxurious house in another area. This can lead to a loss of close friends from both the local neighbourhood and from their workplace. There can also be family tensions and arguments over the money and there is always the chance that winners will be bombarded with requests for money from every kind of cause or charity. There are also case reports in the literature of people become depressed after winning life-changing amounts of money (such as a 2002 study by Dr. S. Nissle and Dr. T. Bschor in the International Journal of Psychiatry in Clinical Practice), although these are presumably the exception as no researcher(s) would get case reports published showing people were happier after winning a large amount of money! However, despite potential problems, most of the psychological research (perhaps unsurprisingly) indicates that winners are glad they won.

Interestingly, one large study by Dr. Richard Arvey and his colleagues (published in a 2004 issue of the Journal of Psychology) of 1,163 lottery winners in the USA showed that the vast majority of lottery winners (63%) carried on working in the same job after their big win, with a further 11% carrying on working part-time in the same job after their big win. The mean average amount won by those who carried on working was 2.59 million US dollars. This appears to show that winning the lottery does not necessarily lead to a changing of lifestyle for the vast majority of winners although smaller scale studies have tended to show that the majority of lottery winners give up work following a big win of over $1 million US dollars.

There are also those groups of people who will view the acquisition of instant wealth as ‘undeserved’. Basically, when people win large amounts of money through gambling, other people around treat them differently even if the winners do not move neighbourhood or carry on in their job. This can lead to envy and resentment not just from people who know the winners but also from those in the locality of where the winners may move to. However, most gaming operators have an experienced team of people to help winners adjust to their new life and to minimize potential problems.

Research into the effects of high jackpots on human behaviour has been relatively sparse. The research that has been carried out suggests that huge jackpot winners do not suffer negatively as a result of winning. There is little research that indicates that high jackpot cause people to develop problems unless the large jackpot is combined with other structural features such as high event frequencies.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Apouey, B. & Clark, A.E. (2009). Winning Big but Feeling no Better? TheEffect of Lottery Prizes on Physical andMental Health. Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei Working Papers (Paper 357). Berkeley Electronic Press.

Arvey, R.D., Harpaz, I. & Liao, H. (2004). Work centrality and post-award work behavior of lottery winners. Journal of Psychology, 138, 404-420.

Brickman, P., Coates, D. & Janoff-Bulman, R. (1978). Lottery winners and accident victims: Is happiness relative? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36, 917-927.

Eckblad, G.F. & von der Lippe, A.L. (1994). Norwegian lottery winners: Cautious realists. Journal of Gambling Studies, 10, 305-322.

Gardner, J. & Oswald, A.J. (2001). Does money buy happiness? A longitudinal study using data on windfalls. Warwick University Mimeograph.

Gardner, J. & Oswald, A.J. (2007). Money and mental well-being: A longitudinal study of medium-sized lottery wins. Journal of Health Economics, 26, 49-60.

Griffiths, M.D. (2009). The lottery of life after a jackpot win. Western Mail, November 11, p.16.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). The effect of winning large jackpots on human behaviour. Casino and Gaming International, 6(4), 77-80.

Griffiths, M.D. & Wood, R.T.A. (2001). The psychology of lottery gambling. International Gambling Studies, 1, 27-44.

Imbens, G. W., Rubin, D. B., & Sacerdote, B. I. (2001). Estimating the effect of unearnedincome on labor earnings, savings, and consumption: Evidence from a survey of lotteryplayers. American Economic Review, 91,778-794.

Kaplan, H. R. (1985). Lottery winners and work commitment: A behavioral test of theAmerican work ethic. Journal of the Institute for Socioeconomic Studies, 10,82-94

Kaplan, H.R. (1987). Lottery winners: The myth and reality. Journal of Gambling Studies, 3, 168-178.

Lindahl, M. (2005). Estimating the effect of income on health and mortality using lottery prizes as an exogenous source of variation in income. Journal of Human Resources, 40, 144-168.

Nissle, S. & Bschor, T. (2002). Winning the jackpot and depression: Money cannot buy happiness. International Journal of Psychiatry in Clinical Practice, 6, 181-186.

Parke, J. & Griffiths, M.D. (2007). The role of structural characteristics in gambling. In G. Smith, D. Hodgins & R. Williams (Eds.), Research and Measurement Issues in Gambling Studies. pp.211-243. New York: Elsevier.

Against all odds: The psychology of lottery gambling

Playing on national lottery games is one of the most popular forms of gambling worldwide and they are also a growing in popularity in their many online incarnations. But what is the psychological appeal of an activity where the odds of winning huge jackpot prizes are usually infinitesimal? For instance, the odds of winning the EuroMillions lottery are 76 million to one. I often joke that you would get better odds of Elvis Presley landing on the moon on the back of the Loch Ness Monster!

Most of us have probably wondered what we would do if we ever won the lottery, but the sad fact is that almost all of us won’t ever win even if we play the lottery every week for the rest of our lives. Conventional wisdom says that big jackpot lottery winners should hopefully look forward to a long life of everlasting happiness. However, research studies have found that lottery winners are euphoric very briefly before they settle back to their ‘normal’ level of happiness or unhappiness. This is because happiness is relative. There is a popular belief by some psychologists that in the long run, winning on the lottery will not make you happy. Researchers who study happiness say that everyone has a certain level of happiness that stays relatively constant but can be changed by particular events that make you happy or sad.

For instance, if you are a generally happy person and a close relative dies, research shows that after a few months or so, you will go back to the same happiness level you were previously. However, this works the other way too. Say you are a person who is not very happy in your day-to-day life. You could win the lottery and would probably be happy for a couple of months, but then you would ‘level out’ and go back at your normal unhappiness level.

On a more practical day-to-day level, most of the research on lottery winners has shown that their lives are much better as a result of their life-changing wins but there is also a significant minority of winners who find other problems occur as a result of their instant wealth. They may give up their jobs and move to a more luxurious house in another area. This can lead to a loss of close friends from both the local neighbourhood and from their workplace. There can also be family tensions and arguments over the money and there is always the chance that winners will be bombarded with requests for money from every kind of cause or charity. However, despite potential problems, most of the psychological research (perhaps unsurprisingly) indicates that winners are glad they won.

There are also those groups of people who will view the acquisition of instant wealth as “undeserved”. Basically, when people win the lottery, other people treat them differently, even if the winners don’t move out of the area or carry on in their job. This can lead to envy and resentment, not just from people who know the winners, but also from those in the locality where the winners may move. Thankfully, most large lottery operators have an experienced team of people to help winners adjust to their new life and to minimize potential problems.

It’s unlikely that the downsides of winning the lottery would be enough to put us off playing. Neither is the unlikely probability of winning. Why then – despite the huge odds against – do people persist with their dream of winning the elusive jackpot? Part of the popularity of lotteries in general is that they offer a low-cost chance of winning a very large life-changing amount of money. Without that huge jackpot, very few of us would play.

The probability of winning a large lottery prize is one of the basic risk dimensions that may help us decide whether we gamble in the first place. Some mathematicians say that playing lotteries is a tribute to public innumeracy and that playing the lottery is totally irrational. However, the probabilities of winning something on the National Lottery are fairly high in comparison with other gambling activities, although the chances of winning the jackpot are very small. Therefore, most players don’t think about the actual probability of winning but rely on what we psychologists call ‘heuristic strategies’ – a fancy name for ‘rules of thumb’ – for handling the available information. What most lottery players’ concentrate on is the amount that could be won rather than the probability of doing so.

We also know that the greater the jackpot the more people will gamble. That is why more lottery tickets are sold on rollover weeks because the potential jackpot is huge. Also, by providing lots of coverage for the huge winners, it helps us forget the millions of people who lost!

We also know that as human beings we tend to overestimate positive outcomes and underestimate negative ones. For instance, if someone is told they have a one in 14 million chance of being killed on any particular Saturday night they would hardly give it a second thought because the chances of anything untoward happening are infinitesimal. However, given the same probability of winning the National Lottery and people suddenly become over-optimistic. For instance, one study found that 22% of people thought that if they played the national lottery every week until they died, they would scoop the National Lottery jackpot at some point in their lifetime.

Another factor that may be important in why lotteries are so financially successful is because of the ‘psychology of entrapment’ with people who choose the same numbers every week. By picking the same numbers the person may become trapped into playing every week. Each week the player thinks they are coming closer to winning. The winning day is impossible to predict but should the player decide to stop and cut their losses, they are faced with the prospect that the very next week their numbers might come up. Very simple – but effective – psychology.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. (1997). Selling hope: The psychology of the National Lottery. Psychology Review, 4, 26-30.

Griffiths, M.D. (1997). The National Lottery and scratchcards: A psychological perspective. The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 10, 23-26.

Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Gambling, luck and superstition: A brief psychological overview. Casino and Gaming International, 7(2), 75-80.

Griffiths, M.D. & Wood, R.T.A. (2001). The psychology of lottery gambling. International Gambling Studies, 1, 27-44.

Wood, R.T.A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Adolescent lottery and scratchcard players: Do their attitudes influence their gambling behaviour? Journal of Adolescence, 27, 467-475.