Good or Bad Idea, Giving Lottery Tickets to Homeless People as a Random Act of Kindness?

One of the rewirements I’m supposed to do in this Week 3 of the  Science of Well-being course I’m taking is to build connections by talking to people I don’t know (i.e. starting conversations with strangers) and doing random acts of kindness (RAKs). Now, RAKs aren’t hard to find. Most people would give you examples like buying someone this or that, likely someone you don’t know, in some situation like the person in front of you or behind you in the coffee line. Those are fine, but for someone with Signature Strength of Creativity being #1, Curiosity being #2 and Judgment (aka Analysis) being #7 of 24 Character Strengths, who believes things are more meaningful if “earned” through a little more work, this buying of generic stuff was “too easy”.

So I thought of alternatives to buying simple stuff, starting with not buying. I’ll do some of that this week, to make things to give to people. However, in the realm of buying, I thought of buying something different for street people, who, among people I wouldn’t know or know of their backgrounds, would likely need something good the most of people I might have seen or crossed paths with. Lots of people give them money, coffee and such. I wanted to give them something more interesting. That’s where I thought of lottery tickets. I immediately saw some interesting “benefits” to the idea, but also some drawbacks for them, without trying to be too judgmental about them and their lifestyles. Here’s what I saw, but I wanted to get some perspectives from anybody who might want to share before I decide.



  1. HOPE – My lottery tickets would be ones where there’d be a weekly, or at most, twice weekly draws. They wouldn’t be something the person could use up immediately like a scratch and win card. If the recipient had any optimism left in them, they could look at it as something to look forward to for a few days. A little hope for a few days. How do you buy hope for someone? They are hardly likely to win the jackpot, but smaller prizes with far better odds would likely suit them just fine. You might say they don’t need any more hope, being out all day hoping that next person they ask for something might give them something, but that’s an entirely different circumstance. They might want or need that money they’re asking for a lot more than this lottery ticket that might well be cynical about and throw away without even checking.
  2. PATIENCE – They would get a little practice on patience waiting for the draw. One might argue they have lots of it being out all day asking for money sometimes, as well as determination, but that’s an entirely different circumstance as noted above.
  3. BENEFIT WINNER OR GOVERNMENT FUNDS – If the recipient wins something, then good for him or her. Ironically, if they won big, it would likely hurt them more in the long run for how they might spend that money, for what others might do to them to get it given they probably don’t have a bank account, and for some old or new “friends” who would want to be friends with their money more than friends with them. And I will harbour no ill wills towards anyone winning it big, which is what stops some from ever giving lottery tickets. That’s disgraceful to think of themselves first like that, as far as I’m concerned. I have enough money to keep me happy, even if it’s not a lot, in my fiscally efficient lifestyle. If the recipient loses, it goes to government coffers, which may or may not have the best uses pending where it ends up, but I still have some faith in governments for managing money. Maybe a smaller, more charitable lottery might be better? But they don’t exactly spend money efficiently, either, if you read reports on % of dollars donated to actually fulfill their causes. A friend suggested creating my own lottery to ensure some people I give tickets to will win something, even if small as I can’t afford a huge jackpot to give. However, that takes more effort than I am willing to give in this one week’s assignment, or even in the long run. Some who don’t win may also not like me for it or deem it not worth their while with the small winnings.

While not a benefit, part of the draw of giving lottery tickets for me is also my #1 life philosophy, that the best thing you can give someone, including yourself, is a chance.



  1. ADDICTION POTENTIAL – The odds of one lottery ticket, if they win, leading to addiction potential, enhance it or reactivate it, may be as small as the odds are of winning (big or small). However, I will acknowledge it is there and needs to be considered.
  2. THREATS – Someone else the person knows might want the ticket, or dispute it in going to see if it won with the person, if it did win. That someone else might become a threat in the recipient’s life that would not have been there before.
  3. NOT THE THING MOST NEEDED – A lottery ticket arguably among the things street or homeless people need the least. No disagreement there. However, I’m trying to give something different to them, not just for my sake, but also theirs, because they can get money, bus tickets, some food and such from others to give to them. Not enough, sure, but my few dollars won’t be that meaningful, either.


So is it a good idea?

Given the arguments above, I wouldn’t say it’s clear. If it doesn’t become so later in the week, pending what else I find out in the meantime, I will err on the giving side and take what I perceive to be the small risk. If you have a view point, please share in the comments, or maybe just take the survey below (and ask others to do the same, whether they want to read the arguments or not). Thank you!

To see more posts related to the Science of Well-being course, please click here.

And click here if you want to register for the Science of Well-being course, by Professor Laurie Santos, free on Coursera!


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