If I won the lottery, I would not buy a fancy house or car. I would not quit my job. I would not trade in my kids or spouse for robot versions that always do what they’re told.
I would, however, go on vacation to wherever, whenever I wanted. I would not be at the mercy of Southwest sales, “off-peak season” deals, or my husband’s hotel employee discount.
Also, you’d better believe I would have a housekeeper. Possibly of the live-in variety, like Alice on the Brady Bunch.
And then I would get all the smartest and best people I know together in one place. And we would have a fabulous dinner with equally wonderful wine. And then I would say “we have a billion dollars. Let’s end world hunger.”
My husband’s plan for the lotto winnings is to buy the Green Bay Packers; and then acquire some huge acreage in some beautiful place and run a sustainable family farm, growing food to give away to the poor.
We are not the only family in America having this hypothetical conversation. When the jackpot climbs to it’s current mind-bending total, everyone gets dollar signs in their eyes. Even people who are sane, rational, and generally happy with their ‘normal’ life. It is such an odd snowball effect–when the lotto numbers get higher, MORE people buy tickets. Even as the ACTUAL chances of winning get slimmer and slimmer. It’s really the perfect system…for the people making money from it. Namely, not us.
I’m not saying I’ve never played. But I do check myself on the temptation, especially when the stakes are this high. After all, it’s a predatory gaming model that takes advantage of the poor and desperate. Also, having that much money would completely ruin my wonderfully simple life. Don’t get me wrong, some cold hard cash would be nice. But I don’t know, somewhere between 5 digits and 8, something scary happens to money. Like a mogwai eating after midnight; or a college kid drinking past 2am. Money, at that point, is no longer money, but a thing with a life–and consequences–all its own.
I’m not convinced that the blessings of such a windfall, however generous my intentions, would be worth the burden of it. With that kind of wealth comes great responsibility and honestly, I’m not up for it. Neither, it is worth mentioning, are most of the people who actually HAVE that kind of wealth. If they were, the world would be a very different place…
If the lottery serves one good purpose, it is to make us think about our ideal life. The conversation about what we’d do with winnings–even if we aren’t actually playing–gives us a glimpse into our deepest desires. What would we do if money were no object? What is most important to us?
Maybe the real question is: Who would we be if we were free?
Of course, the illusion that money would make us free is just that–an (expensive) illusion. But there it is– that’s what everybody’s playing for. A shot at life without perceived limits; a chance to rethink our time and space and relationships without the constraint of bills, debt, and a 40 to 80 hour work week. It’s an intoxicating dream. But really, is it THE dream?
Maybe what we should be asking ourselves is this: what would I do with all the money in the world? And what is stopping me from doing that now?
As for the “I would travel anywhere,” “I would have a housekeeper” and “I would buy the Green Bay Packers” kinds of dreams, the answer is obvious. I am not doing those things because I don’t have the resources.
But get at the more fundamental desires reflected in our Lotto loot dreams. What I mostly hear people saying is that:
1. They want to be more generous
2. They want to spend more time with family and friends
3. They want to see new places and experience new things
4. They want to make a difference in the world
5. They want to be more present to life without worrying about time and money
When you come right down to it–what is stopping any of us from doing these things?
Middle class generosity may not look like jackpot generosity, for sure: but there are a thousand ways to live generously every day. It’s not just about money, and it’s not just about epic global gestures. You can always give something to someone.
Want to spend more time with the people who matter? Then we have to learn to say ‘no’ to all the little things that chip away at our days. Maybe it’s social media, or endless errands and shopping for stuff we don’t really need. Maybe it’s working long hours because we’ve convinced ourselves that gives us meaning and/or importance. Maybe it is watching too much Netflix or arguing about who’s turn to load the dishwasher. Or maybe it’s the time we waste in regret about the past, or anxiety about the future. In any case– most of us could make a few small choices each day that would reveal extra moments–maybe even hours–for what really matters.
Want more adventure? Just go. It doesn’t have to be a first class trip to Fiji (although, Lord in your mercy, sometime before I die). Resurrect the Great American Road Trip. Or save your airline miles. Or go visit that friend who lives a few time zones away, who you can never quite catch on the phone. Most of these things sound completely un-doable and overwhelming, not because of money, but because of time. See item #2 and repeat. Same goes if you’ve been waiting to take that cooking class, learn Spanish or go to surfing school. You do not need the permission of unlimited resources to do any of these things.
If you want to make a difference in the world… Sometimes we get stuck in this idea that unless we can fix all the things, it doesn’t count. And while ending world hunger will always stay at the top of my life’s ‘to-do’ list, there is nothing keeping me from addressing hunger in my own community. And making justice-based food decisions or my family that will positively impact the eco-system. Compassion is not an all-or-nothing enterprise. Start where you are with what you have. If everybody did that–wouldn’t that be the real jackpot?
And #5 doesn’t need much commentary. Finances can be a stressful part of life. But if we continually let the burden of debt, stress about what we don’t have, and anxiety about the future steal our present joy, then I truly doubt that any amount of money will change that pattern. Which is why most people who win the lottery wind up broke, divorced, and/or battling addiction–whether to substance or stuff.
Maybe some of the things on that list would be easier–or at least seem easier–with unlimited resources. But here’s the truth: anybody can be generous, given enough money. Anybody can be adventurous when it doesn’t cost them anything. But the real joy in life is finding ways to be generous, adventurous, and fully present regardless of our circumstances. The real work of being human is showing up for our lives every day and doing the messy work of love and relationship. None of that gets easier with a bigger paycheck. And you can take that to the bank.