Millions of Americans put their faith in six lucky numbers, somehow convincing themselves that they will never be elected president, receive an Academy Award or die of SARS, but just might win the Powerball.
It is something I have never understood.
The latest jackpot was worth $587.5 million. A figure that baited gamblers all over the nation for weeks before it was finally claimed on Nov. 28. To which I replied, “hallelujah.”
The Powerball is more than just a game. It is a warped addiction to the thrill of “what if’s” and it’s sending Americans a powerful message: If you could win the lottery, you’d be a better version of yourself. Your life would be more fulfilling, valuable and above all else, you’d be more apt to change the world.
According to Dr. Stephen Goldbart, author of “Affluence Intelligence” and co-director of the Money, Meaning & Choices Institute, the lottery serves a psychological function for people. Gobart said the pleasure of living is not only based on current circumstances, but what we imagine our situation could become.
In essence, winning isn’t so much about striking it rich as it is about reinventing yourself. People don’t want to buy happiness, they want to use the money as a gateway to success and a remedy for human apathy.
The greater the jackpot, the greater the desperation.
During America’s most recent lottery frenzy, some even turned to religion in the hopes that it would sway their chances of winning. According to CNN, one lottery hopeful started a “Prayer List for Powerball” on a website called Christian Prayer Center. For just a buck, gamblers could add their name to a list of fellow believers who sent Powerball prayers directly to God because, you know, delegating cash has to be pretty high on His list of priorities.
One anonymous comment read:
“I ask that your prayer warrior will pray for me for the numbers I had played and would hit the jackpot and if GOD’s will for me to win I will be a blessing to his kingdom to help the poor and the needy.”
Excuse me, sir. You need money to do that?
In my years of hating the Powerball, it’s the most popular argument I’ve encountered: I’m a good person. I would give the majority of my winnings to charity, start my own foundation and build a school in a third world country. Only after my humanitarian goals have been met, would I buy a Ferrari – no a Lambo, or I guess both – for myself.
When I ask them what they would do if they didn’t win, they reluctantly submit to reality, where a career in dentistry or finance would have to suffice.
There is a disconnect of epic proportions in that logic. People are more than happy to sit around and fantasize about their philanthropic dreams, but only if they exist in a hypothetical universe. As if a person can’t change the world without $500 million.
That, my friends, is what we call laziness.
I understand your apprehension. With an average salary and a nine to five job, you may never be able to start your own foundation or contribute to charity. In the same breath, why not? Your chances of finding success in most anything are a whole lot greater than your chances of winning the Powerball. Which, by the way, is one in 175,223,510.
Lucky for you, and all of us really, fulfillment doesn’t come from passing out cash to the charity of your choice. Part of the human experience is working hard, earning your money and giving what you can. It won’t be a painless process, but it will certainly be rewarding. If your bank account were unending you would sacrifice that journey.
The $587.5 million Powerball jackpot may be off the market, but the lottery craze will come around again and many of you will put your faith in six winning numbers (just one more time).
Think I’m going to tell you not to buy a ticket? Not quite.
Go buy a ticket. Buy five tickets. Buy me a ticket. Spend the night deciding what you’ll do with your life if you win. Then, when you lose? Do it anyway.
Carly Samuelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.