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Shortcuts: How to win the lottery

By Alison Daniels for CNN
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(CNN) -- A superstitious British couple last week won $17 million on the lottery after accidentally buying a ticket on Friday 13 -- and smashing a mirror as well. Here's how to get lucky.

Step one -- buy a ticket: Like anything in life you have to play to win. On the face of it your chances of winning are finite -- for example around one in 14 million in the UK, one in 76 million in the Euro lottery or a staggering one in 120 million in the U.S. Powerball game. So, to put it bluntly if you bought a lottery ticket once a week you might not win the jackpot before global warming destroys the earth. But don't let that put you off. As Tom Stoppard so eloquently put it, "life is a gamble at terrible odds -- if it was a bet you wouldn't take it." Be optimistic.

Beating the odds: For the serious gambler there are steps you can take to maximize your chances. Take "Exploit the Lottery and Win" by John Zenman which promises a "step-by-step approach in a clear, easy to follow format and strategy" designed to work on any lottery in the world. Or check out thisismoney.co.ukexternal link, which helpfully generates a set of potentially winning numbers for you. Make sure you read the disclaimers though -- all the experts make one thing clear -- you may not win lottery.

Keep it simple -- choose your lucky numbers: Playing the lottery should be fun not a career (though hopefully it might end yours). As the poet John Dryden sagely opined, "judgment is a mere lottery" so trust your own judgment and pick your favorite numbers. Anything will do, your house number, the amount you owe in debts or how many micro-seconds it will take to tell your boss to go to hell if you win.

On second thoughts don't pick your birthday: This is a common trap. Obviously it lacks originality but more than that it reduces your chances of winning. Just think about it -- the days and months only go up to 31 and 12. Even if you do win using your birth digits, the chances are you'll have to split the winnings with more people. After all everyone's birthday begins with 19 (and anyone who doesn't should not be playing). The same applies to buying a ticket when there's a bigger jackpot -- more people play so the odds are more people win. Let's be honest you don't want to have to share with strangers anymore than you want to hear from your second cousin twice removed after a 20-year silence.

Actually, some numbers are luckier than others: Number seven and multiples of it are popular choices. And rightly so, number seven appears in the list of top 10 winning numbers in both the South African and UK lotteries.

Remember an unlucky number can work too: Consider the case of the British couple who recently bought their winning ticket on Friday 13 shortly after a mirror at their home fell off the living room wall and smashed. No doubt their $17m win offset the predicted seven years of bad luck.

Don't lose the ticket. Basic advice, but you'd be surprised how many people find their eureka moment spoilt by having to go through the contents of the trash. Take Mike Sargent from Texas. He blamed God when he lost a winning $25,000 ticket but fortunately God was also instrumental in its return. The man who found it was going to keep it until his wife warned him, "God is going to punish you if you don't return it."

Or die: You may not care about leaving your debts behind when you slip off this mortal coil but if you die before collecting your prize, your winnings become part of your estate. Make a will.

Will winning the lottery make you happy? Well that's the million-dollar question. There are plenty of cautionary tales of rags to riches to tears. Basically if you were unhappy before you won, you'll be unhappy after you win. A small win won't change your life but will put a spring in your step. Experts calculate that the exact amount most likely to make you happy is a $1,869 win....so remind me, what are the chances of that?


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Will winning the lottery make you happy?

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