It seems like more times than not, when I’m waiting in line at a gas station or convenience store, someone in front of me is buying lottery tickets.
There is a natural inclination among most people to want to strike it rich. The old saying that money doesn’t buy happiness is well-known, but mostly disregarded. We don’t believe it.
I heard a wealthy person say once that the only problem money solves is money problems. It doesn’t solve any other problem. In fact, it seems in most cases to create more problems.
I have known many wealthy people over the years. I’m not talking about successful upper middle class people. I mean really, filthy rich people. The kind of people who write checks for hundreds of thousands of dollars without blinking an eye. I knew most of them through politics.
The only people who seem to handle wealth fairly well are those who grew up with it, i.e., people who inherited it. After a few generations of wealth, people seem to adapt to it.
But for most people, striking it rich or winning the lottery usually brings more disaster than happiness. I have received a couple of lottery tickets as gifts, but I think I have only bought one ticket, and that was when fellow employees were pooling their resources to buy some big Powerball tickets. I fell prey to the fear of being the only one not to share in the winnings. (Note: We didn’t win.)
It is difficult to stay free of the temptation to want more. We live in an age where we are bombarded with targeted advertising designed to convince us that we would be so much happier if we just had more things.
If I just had a better car, why, then I would be happy. If I just lived in that neighborhood instead of the one I live in, well, then life would be perfect. If I just had more clothes, more jewelry, the ability to take better vacations, etc., etc., etc.
One of the most well-known cautionary tales was the case of Jack Whittaker of West Virginia. In 2002, Whittaker, already a successful contractor, won what was then the largest lottery prize of all time — $315 million. He and his family members appeared on countless television shows. They became instant celebrities.
Jack tried to do good things with his money, giving much of it to churches and other charitable organizations. But within a couple of years, the heartache soon outpaced whatever happiness the money could buy.
There were suddenly hundreds of people lining up for handouts, and legal problems began to mount. And there was a drug overdose of a beloved granddaughter whom Jack had showered with money and gifts.
Jack himself was often the victim of robbery, and his own spending at strip joints and other such diversions became legendary across the Mountain State. Once, his drink was allegedly spiked to knock him out so he could be robbed.
He was known to carry hundreds of thousands in cash. He was sued by an Atlantic City casino for bouncing $1.5 million in checks to cover gambling losses.
By 2007, he claimed that all the money was gone, in part due to an elaborate scheme involving thieves raiding his bank accounts.
Whittaker told ABC News, “Since I won the lottery, I think there is no control for greed,” he said. “I think if you have something, there’s always someone else that wants it. I wish I’d torn that ticket up.”
Whittaker said of his granddaughter, “She was bitter because she had lost some of her friends… the drug dealers just ganged up on her because of me.”
Whittaker said that the Powerball win had become a curse.
“My granddaughter is dead because of the money,” he said.
Whittaker had finally concluded that money does not make people happy.
“Family is what is dear,” he said. “I don’t know where it’ll end. But you know, I just don’t like Jack Whittaker. I don’t like the hard heart I’ve got. I don’t like what I’ve become.”
Whittaker’s tale is not an uncommon one. But every day, every week, people line up to buy lottery tickets in the hopes of winning the big payoff, putting them on Easy Street, as though life would be perfect then.
One of the biggest tragedies of our generation is the movement by state governments to establish and legitimize lotteries and gambling as acceptable ways to raise revenues, and encouraging millions of people to spend their paychecks on the infinitesimal chance that they will strike it rich.
Untold riches bring misery. We see it all the time, from professional athletes to rock stars to Hollywood movie stars. Their sudden wealth is their undoing.
One of my favorite philosophies of life came from the apostle Paul, who wrote, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.”
It is difficult for most of us to learn to be content, whatever the circumstances. But the flip side of that coin is never learning to be content, no matter how good our circumstances might be, because there is always something else we do not yet have. What we know from countless examples is that money not only does not buy happiness, it usually brings sorrow.
The next time someone gives you a lottery ticket as a gift, consider politely giving it back, with the excuse that you’re afraid you might win.
Gary Abernathy is a regional content director for Civitas Media. He can be reached at (937) 393-3456, or on Twitter @abernathygary.