Have you ever tried your hand at gambling? If so, you’re probably familiar with the rollercoaster of emotions that comes with it – the excitement, anticipation, and suspense… for most gamblers, it’s a completely immersive mind and body experience.
So, it’s no wonder that if you were to scoop a win (no matter how small), you’d relish in the feeling, and probably strive to recreate it.
If this FEELS so good, it begs the question… Can gambling actually make you happy? Or is this physiological and neurological response just another thing that keeps gamblers hooked on spending money, and living under an illusion?
What Is Gambling?
Essentially, gambling is the act of playing games for a chance of winning money. Gambling is a pretty risky venture and some element of financial risk is always required if you want to increase your chances of receiving a higher payout.
When you gamble, you bet or stake something of value, with the hope of it returning even more value or profit. Although gambling doesn’t always involve betting with money, this is usually the case.
Many people go to casinos or participate in sports betting when they gamble (see also “Can Sports Betting Be A Career?“). However, gambling can also be done online by playing a variety of instant win games, or traditional games like poker, for cash.
Gambling is an activity that takes place all over the world, and in most places, you must be over the age of 18 to place bets legally.
Can Gambling Increase Happiness?
The answer to this question is a little tricky. In the short term, gambling can positively increase your mood and produce feelings of euphoria.
However, if you become addicted to this feeling, or you consistently lose money only to keep betting more and losing again, gambling is unlikely to increase your happiness in the long term.
To understand whether or not gambling can increase happiness, we need to take a look at the science behind it.
The Science Behind Gambling
Remember that rush we were talking about earlier?
Well, when you gamble, your brain releases generous amounts of dopamine – our favorite, euphoric neurotransmitter that produces feelings of happiness and excitement.
So, surprisingly, you’ll still get a hit of dopamine, even if you LOSE a bet.
This is what many argue makes gambling so dangerous – even if you’ve just lost a large payout on a bet, you’ll still get a hit of dopamine, which can trick your brain into believing that losing is still worth pursuing.
This is what causes many gamblers to become addicts – in the throes of addiction, hardcore gamblers have a tough time recognizing when it’s time to call it quits because losing still feels so good (see also “How Do Gamblers Feel After Losing?“).
Let’s not forget the other benefits of gambling, which can also lead to temporary feelings of happiness. These include the hopes of winning more money, socializing, and a general sense of enjoyment.
Collectively, this can make some users more likely to spiral into addiction, and develop unhealthy habits that can quickly lead to a total loss of control.
Can Gambling Ever Be Healthy?
As we can see, most of the positive feelings associated with gambling are there for the short term, not the long term. So, although gambling can make you happy in the moment, it’s unlikely to bring you long-term happiness.
But are there any actual benefits to gambling, and can it ever be healthy?
If it’s practiced sensibly, here are a few ways that gambling can benefit your life, and even be a healthy influence.
Risk Assessment Skills
Gambling always comes with the risk of loss, making it a great way to improve your own risk assessment skills. Whenever you place a bet, you’ll have to find ways to adapt and protect yourself from loss, depending on the game.
With some games, though, it’s not always possible to prevent a loss. We see this with plenty of online instant win games, for example, that are simply a matter of luck with no real strategy.
However, in games where you need to manage your risk, you can develop your own risk assessment skills. If it’s done sensibly, you can also learn how to be honest with yourself and improve your decision-making skills.
May Reduce Social Anxiety
If you’re gambling with a group of friends, you may need to work together as a team. This fosters a sense of inclusion, and some argue that it can even decrease social anxiety.
Even if you’re traditionally a hermit, gambling as a collective gives you the opportunity to be around others and work as a team, without the need for exhaustive conversation.
If you become confident in your skills and your ability to win, you may also boost your own confidence, which can help you in other areas of your life, too.
How To Gamble Safely
Like most things in life, gambling is best done in moderation. There’s a pretty dark side to the gambling industry, and if you’re not careful, you could end up spending all of your money for the hell of it.
If you want to enjoy gambling, you’ll need to do it safely.
Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Only bet what you can afford to lose
- Don’t expect to win
- Never gamble on credit
- Set yourself a cash limit and stick to it
- Don’t think of it as a way to make money
- Ask your friends or family to monitor your gambling activities, and step in if required
- Use online blockers if you gamble too often online
Although gambling is unlikely to make you happy in the long term, those short-term feelings of euphoria are extremely deceiving. One thing’s for sure, though; when practiced safely, gambling DOES have its benefits.
Just remember: moderation is key. If you think you have a gambling problem always seek professional advice, and reach out to friends and family for support.