I have only played the lottery twice in my life. The first was many years ago when I lived in Bakersfield, California. My work was right next to a convenience store and being from Utah, I had never played the lottery before. On a lark I bought a ticket and didn’t win anything.
I am not a gambler. I don’t like taking risks. I like sure things, and I certainly don’t like flushing my money down the toilet, which is what gambling is to me. When in Vegas I rarely gamble, and when I do I have a specified amount of money (no more than $5) and play only for fun. The very few times I have played, I always felt guilty for wasting my money. If I ever get ahead, I usually stop immediately (hey, $5.36 is 36ȼ more than I had when I started.
The second time I played the lottery was this past Wednesday. Even though I knew the odds of winning the Powerball were worse than getting hit by an asteroid, winning an Academy Award, or dying from any cause in the next 30 seconds, I thought it would be fun to play. I spent very little on my ticket and, of course, had no expectation of winning (or even that any of my numbers would be chosen). I actually did it as a bonding experience with my mother-in-law, who wanted to play. And, after all, somebody has to win, right?
As soon as I purchased the ticket, I knew I had made a mistake. A feeling of dread actually filled my body. I didn’t actually want to win. Why, you ask? After all, if you won $1.5 billion, which was what the jackpot was, you’d never have to worry about money again. Even if you split that with other winners, you’d still have millions of dollars.
The thing is, people think money will solve all their problems. It won’t. If you aren’t happy now, winning the lottery isn’t going to bring you happiness. Time and time again we hear stories of lottery winners who say their lives were ruined from winning the lottery. You hear stories of people who win millions and then go bankrupt because of poor money management or bad investments. I was watching a news story where they were asking various people what they would spend the money on if they won, and one guy in all seriousness said, “Hookers and cocaine,” the embarrassed reporter immediately withdrew from him because that, obviously, is not the kind of answer she was looking for. But it brought up a good point for me: that guy is not happy. If he’s trying to find happiness in drugs or meaningless sexual relationships, he is not happy. Winning a billion dollars is not going to take away any pain or heartache he has in his life and chances are high that he will use that money to further bury himself in things that will not make him happy.
I read a statistic that Americans spent $70.15 billion on lottery tickets in 2014. The majority of people who play the lottery are from below-average income households. That means that many, if not most, people who play the lottery are spending the precious income they have on a venture that most likely will give them nothing back in return. The poor spend more of their income on the lottery than rich people do and can afford it less. And I’m assuming that if these people are so desperate to spend their precious income on a losing venture, they probably aren’t very happy with their current circumstances. Winning a great deal of money can be life-changing, but it is not a recipe for happiness.
Now I actually am happy. Would extra money be nice? Sure. But I also think of the problems that could come with winning such an exorbitant amount of money. The scammers, the loss of anonymity, the friendships or relationships that could be wrecked by financial conflicts, the constant barrage of people and charities who want your help, but your inability to help everyone, the assumption that because you have a large sum of money you’ll be expected to pay for everything, the “friends” who come out of the woodwork suddenly cozying up to you because they know you have money, the dissatisfaction that comes from being able to buy practically anything you want without having to work for it, etc.
If I did get a large sum of money, I would want it to be an inheritance or gift that nobody knew about so that I could handle it in my own way, privately, without added eternal pressures. I actually don’t think I’d change my lifestyle too much. I’d continue to work, would probably drive the same car, wouldn’t make many lavish purchases; I might move to a nicer home or travel a little more and would want to donate to more causes that I believe in, but overall, if I had a lot of money, those around me probably wouldn’t know.
I worry that Jonah, who likes to shop and buy nice things, would go a little overboard. I would probably, unfortunately, be extremely tight with money, even if I had a large amount of it. But I would want to help family members, such as my mother-in-law and my sister, who could really use it. As I was talking to my mother-in-law about the lottery, I realized she would probably make a lot of foolish choices if she had access to that kind of money, but I do feel bad because you can tell money is a real concern for her. Jonah already does so much to support her; we wish we could do more.
I remember many years ago my mom had these cassette tapes of this sales guru named Tom Hopkins.
They were actually really good self-improvement tapes. I remember him telling a story about someone who won a lottery or sweepstakes who lost all the money and making the case that if a person’s self-image does not equal their gains in life, they will lose them. Something along those lines – he made the same case about people who get plastic surgery but still feel unattractive – because their self-image (what’s inside) is low, and no matter how much money they get or how much plastic surgery they get, until the inside problem is fixed nothing given to them externally will help.
I actually think I’d manage lottery winnings well, but I feel like winning a lot of many could also come with a lot of headaches.
I was relieved when I didn’t win – and I didn’t win anything…except the knowledge that I don’t want to play the lottery again.