Instant Wealth

The Lunch Ladies of Holdingford (sounds like a novel) won $95 million in the Powerball lottery this week, a victory for barely-over-minimum-wage lunch ladies everywhere!

Now I will be eagerly awaiting the follow up report one year from now on what they did with their winnings, and how it has affected their lives.

There seems to be no greater test of character than a sudden windfall of unearned wealth. It seems to ruin the lives of many people so bequeathed, if previous follow up stories on lottery winners are any indication.

Professional athletes are one example of people who find themselves instantly wealthy, often before they are ready for it. The multi-million dollar contract makes many of them sullen, egotistical, and unmotivated. Sometimes a star young athlete will recover in a year or two; other times the newly-rich athletes disappear for good, unable to motivate themselves to keep their skills honed after they have been handed financial security.

Only two of the lunch ladies quit upon learning of their winnings. Perhaps others will quit later. Sudden windfalls remove the financial necessity of work, but they do nothing to remove the psychological need to be productively occupied. Some winners realize this and keep on working, at least until they figure out what else to do with their lives. Others quit right away, only to find themselves at a loss.

We all crave instant wealth. We can't imagine, until it happens, that winning the lottery would bring anything but unmitigated happiness. But a sudden windfall removes the tension, the drama of making one's own way in the world. It could well be that very tension which makes life interesting. I know that if I were to be handed millions, I would be thrown into a crisis: Why work any more? Why not sleep in all the time? Why not spend the rest of your life spending?

The answers to those questions would probably lead me back to the same work I did before. It is good work, and having good work is one of life's biggest blessings--a bigger blessing than money, by far.