Like most people, my husband and I often wish we had just a little more money than we currently have. Gosh, if we had more money we could…and here starts an endless list of projects. We could put in a windmill to power our well. We could install more secure fences to keep our livestock where they should be (fences, we’ve learned, are merely decorative suggestions when it comes to cows). We could do any number of improvements to the house. We could finally build a barn large enough to house cattle, winter hay, and farm machinery all in the same building.
In having this wish list, we are not alone. I doubt there’s a person in America today who has not, at some point, discussed what they would do if they won the lottery.
When you think about it, it’s amazing what we spend our time chasing after, or what we think will make us happy. I mean, honestly – a fancy sports car? A yacht? A huge McMansion? Diamond jewelry? Are these the kinds of silly things you’d waste your time or money on if you won the lottery?
A friend came over the other day and we had a nice chat over a cozy pot of tea. Our discussion touched on lost financial opportunities. “If only we’d sold that house six months later, we would have made triple the price.” “If only we had bought gold when it was $200 an ounce we would be rich.” “If only we’d bought stock in Microsoft back when it had only 22 people working there.”
These were all real opportunities between us that would have made us, if not wealthy, at least very well off. Yet we missed those investment or selling opportunities, and as a result we lead lives of modest frugality. Some people, we concluded, are not meant to be rich.
And in this regard we are in excellent company, for into this category falls the vast majority of people in America. There are many who live in extreme poverty. There are a few who live with extreme wealth. In the center are those of us who live lives of modest frugality, trundling along thinking how nice it would be to have just a little more money than we currently have.
Over our teacups, my friend and I discussed what we would do if we won the lottery. And we wondered, what happens to those who actually do win the lottery?
A quick internet search turns up sad stories of monstrous spending sprees, broken marriages, children gone astray, bankruptcy, and in some cases even murder or suicide. Perhaps, like us, some people are not meant to be rich.
Money, it seems, isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. As the Good Book says, the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Not money itself, but the love of it. It is the love of money, and the things money can buy, that spirals lottery winners into monstrous spending sprees, broken marriages, children gone astray, bankruptcy, and even murder or suicide. Are we having fun yet?
What is it about fabulous, unexpected and (most importantly) unearned wealth that ruins people? Why can’t we be good stewards of our money along with our other blessings? Say what you will about those who are born wealthy: many of them grow up knowing that money is a serious responsibility. But when some Joe Sixpack wins the big bucks, suddenly he loses control, goes on a lavish and decadent spending spree, gifts his children until they are ruined, and within a few years Joe’s life is a wreck.
Of course, the difference between a Rockefeller and Joe Sixpack is a Rockefeller (assumedly) is trained, often from infancy, to handle money. The rest of us aren’t. We work hard and get by, but we seldom if ever have massive quantities of cash to do whatever we want. And too many people have class envy which makes them want the things “rich” people have. (I’ll take this opportunity to point out that many of those who truly are rich seldom act rich. In fact, that’s often how they got rich. Those who act rich are usually in debt up to their eyeballs. Read “The Millionaire Next Door” and you’ll see my point.)
Perhaps money can only be valued if it is earned. If I win the lottery and then splurge on that big-screen TV (gack) I always wanted, I’m not going to enjoy or cherish it as much as if I’d scrimped and saved and earned the money and finally bought that big-screen TV (gack) I always wanted.
Incentive and a work ethic go a long way in providing people with their wants as well as their needs. By working hard and living frugally, many people become wealthy and wise about the stewardship of their money.
But shower someone with unearned wealth and they lose control. Often their lives are shattered.
Naturally not all lottery winners turn into decadent idiots. Undoubtedly some (perhaps most) lead responsible lives and are good stewards of their new riches. But I suspect these are the types who had a sound work ethic and a solid moral foundation to begin with, and so are grounded in the responsibilities that come with wealth.
I realize it’s something of a cliché, but the unhappy lottery winners can no doubt testify that money really can’t buy happiness. When we look back on our lives, it’s the times of honorable struggle that we often remember with the greatest fondness. Remember the early days of your marriage when you faced the future with your new spouse and worked to buy your first home together? Perhaps it was when you were building your business, working long hours to produce a product and bring in customers? Whatever the situation, it’s the worthy toil it takes to realize our dreams that gives us a sense of pride and contentment later in life.
If everything is suddenly handed to you on a silver platter, the meaning is gone. The struggle is gone. The pride is gone. All you have is…the thing. Whoopee.
That’s why I like the idea of the Constitutional freedom for the pursuit of happiness. If the government would get out of the way and let us pursue our dreams – rather than lavishing us with entitlements masqueraded as “rights” – then we struggle and succeed (or fail) on our own merit. We become a nation of resourceful, creative, hard-working people rather than a nation of whiners who prefer to look to a Sugar Daddy for handouts instead of getting off their butts and doing it for themselves. I take much more pride and pleasure from milking my own cow and making my own cheese than I do in buying the cheese from a grocery store – much less having someone give me free cheese because I whined a lot. See the difference?
So our lottery wish list will remain long and, most likely, unfulfilled. I doubt we’ll ever have the money for a windmill or stout cattle panels to fence our property. Instead we’ll cobble together a less expensive watering system and reinforce the bent T-posts and tweaked field fencing. Our girls will watch and learn as we come up with frugal, creative alternatives to the lavish wishes on our lottery list. And as they grew into young women, they’ll learn that it is hard work and ingenuity that made this country great – not government entitlements and false “rights.”
Besides, it takes only a mere moment’s attitude adjustment to make me remember that I’ve already won the lottery. I have all my needs and many of my wants. I have my family and my friends, my health and my farm, my faith and my writing and my books. Yep, I’ve already won the lottery.
But that doesn’t mean that a little more money wouldn’t be deeply welcomed…