By Ronnie McBrayer
I’ve got bad news and good news. The bad news is you probably won’t win the lottery. The good news is you may be better off if you don’t. Lottery winners, according to some studies, are no happier than when they were broke. Some, in fact, are worse off in the end than in the beginning. Consider the story of Florida resident Abraham Shakespeare. When Shakespeare was 13, he was arrested for robbery. For the next 30 years he was in and out of trouble, in and out of jail, job-to-job, and living hand-to-mouth.
Poverty, assault charges, drug abuse, restraining orders, and back child support characterized his life. Fresh out of jail in November 2006, he was lucky to have an $8-an-hour job unloading boxes from a tractor-trailer. With two of the last five bucks in his wallet he bought two quick pick lottery tickets. Three days later he was a millionaire thirty times over. Three years later, with most of his money already gone—spent frivolously and on all the old habits as before—his body was found buried in a concrete slab, the alleged victim of an apparent con-artist. You would think, that even for the most troubled soul, winning $30 million would set things right.
Maybe we should view wealth, not as something evil, but certainly as something dangerous; because wealth can fool us into thinking that it is the source of our happiness, that it can give us satisfaction. Yes, having financial resources can make life easier, but it is a poor substitute for personal peace. Like Abraham Shakespeare, if you have inner turmoil before holding the giant cardboard check for the cameras, you are sure to have that same turmoil afterwards, but with compounding interest.
There is a Hebrew proverb that says, “A meal of bread and water eaten in contentment is better than a banquet spiced with quarrels.” The point is clear: Greater satisfaction is found in simplicity, especially if the banquets and winning lottery tickets bring nothing but trouble, ulcers, and conflict. So when is enough, enough? Where is that line that marks simple contentment from complex materialism? The great G. K. Chesterton answered like this, “There are two ways to get enough. One is to continue to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less.” So let’s be careful that in grabbing for more, we do not lose our grip on life now.
Ronnie McBrayer is the author of “Leaving Religion, Following Jesus.” He writes and speaks about life, faith, and Christ-centered spirituality. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.