Why winning the lottery might be a bad thing – and it isn’t why you think

When there is no feeling of accomplishment, children fail to develop properly and old people rapidly decline. – Joesph Witney

Many times we fantasize about what we would do if we were to win the lottery, or get a large inheritance from our long forgotten uncle, or some other big financial windfall. We day dream about what we might do if we suddenly had millions of dollars: Travel. Quit our job. Imagine the car or house we’d buy. It can be fun to spend some time dreaming about what we might do. But if we were to receive such a windfall would it really be in our best interest?

The downside to winning the lotterywinning the lottery

While winning a large sum of money might seem like a dream come true, reality has shown it is too often just the opposite. Many studies have shown that a large number of lottery winners find themselves broke just a few years later. There are many potential reasons for this but I think there is another reason why winning the lottery or some similar sudden financial windfall might not be the blessing we would think.

I recently heard an interview with author Andy Andrews. He was asked the question, “would you rather win the lottery or be granted the opportunity to live twice as long?” He chose the latter, but not for the reason I might have guessed. Andy indicated that his concern with suddenly having a large sum of money such as through winning the lottery was the fear that complacency would keep him from becoming the person he was created to be. If all his financial needs were met, he wondered if he would still have the same drive to read, learn and grow as a person.

The blessing of the struggle

I must admit that particularly when we have seen massive lottery jackpots in the news I have fantasized about what I would do if I suddenly had millions of dollars. Andy’s answer to that gave me a very different perspective on the idea.

What if you suddenly had millions of dollars? Would you continue to work? Would you continue to learn? Would you try to find ways to better yourself?

I think many times it is in the struggles that we learn who God created us to be. The need to put food on the table and care for our families is a powerful motivator. In our ever changing world, we must continually adapt if we want to grow as a person. If we want to better ourselves we need to be continually reading. We need to learn new skills. We need to be placed into circumstances from time to time where we aren’t quite sure what to do.

Stretching and growing are often uncomfortable. It is much like exercise. Getting in shape can be painful. As the old mantra goes “No pain, No gain.” Our muscles grow stronger as we push them a little beyond our comfort levels. In much the same way, the need to provide for ourselves and our families forces us to push our abilities a little beyond our comfort zone. It forces us to learn new skills. We gradually grow the skills and the talents that God has naturally given us.

Learning to trust

There is another aspect to this growth that I think is equally important. One of the chief dangers of wealth is it is very easy to start to trust it to be our provider and protector instead of God. When all of my physical needs are met, there is little reason for me to trust my Creator. It is easy to begin to think we have everything pretty well under control. My faith muscles grow weak because I have little need to use them.

Avoiding complacency

While we might dream that winning the lottery would give us a life of happiness, in reality that is seldom the case. The struggles of our day to day life make us uncomfortable. But it is in that discomfort that we are forced to grow. I don’t want to live a life of stagnation. I want to continue stretch and grow into the person God created me to be.

There are many reasons I could give why playing the lottery is not a good thing, both moral and otherwise. Complacency is not one I had thought about before hearing Andy Andrews discuss it. Complacency is a real risk of wealth and perhaps explains why we so often see lottery winners lose it all.

What would you choose? Winning the lottery or living twice as long?

Photo credit: Robert S. Donovan (creative commons)

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