Editor’s Notebook: The lottery of a lifetime
Another giant lottery jackpot feeds another round of lottery dreams. (Flavio Coelho | Getty Images)
For a few minutes on Tuesday morning, I considered buying a lottery ticket for the $1.1 billion Mega Millions drawing. January can be a tough month mentally, and spending a couple bucks to add sprinkles of absurd hope to a cold winter day isn’t a bad deal.
But then I remembered that the last time I bought a ticket for a ridiculous jackpot, I did more worrying than dreaming. How many lawyers and financial planners would I have to hire to handle that much money, and how do you find people you trust? What kind of negative impact could enormous wealth have on my family? How do you decide who to help and who to ignore? What happens after you get sick of spending money? (Do rich people get sick of spending money?) When every day feels like a holiday, is boredom inevitable?
Such is the anxiety of this age: Even fantasies are fraught.
I’m one of the fortunate ones who doesn’t need a winning ticket to cover the cost of life’s necessities. Our house is far from perfect, but it perfectly shelters us. The pantry is usually well stocked, and when it’s not one of us heads to the store. I’m not the most popular guy around, but there are people on this planet who I love and who love me in return. And I’m grateful to have my health, all the while knowing a day will come when I don’t.
I still suffer from time to time, but that’s due to a troubled mind more than external events. By any reasonable measure, I am lucky.
So why would somebody play the lottery if they have everything they need?
Nothing is more valuable than time, and that’s what money buys. The lottery fantasy is about working less and playing more. It is about the ability to buy nice things and the pleasure, however fleeting, that creates. It is about the cessation of worries that keep us up at night. It is about the freedom to choose the way we live rather than always feeling as though life is something that happens to us.
The lottery dream differs from person to person, but for everyone who plays it falls somewhere between pure charity and pure luxury. And for everyone on that spectrum there is a dream of more time and more freedom.
As the size of the Mega Millions jackpot makes perfectly clear, a lot of people desire more of both. Policymakers could help, but too often they don’t. Instead they argue about perceived freedom as it relates to their political leanings rather than meaningful freedom, while also thwarting policies that would create time for the people they serve, such as paid family leave, a higher minimum wage, and truly affordable health care. Sometimes opposition to such policies is rooted in economic realities, but sometimes it’s just heartlessness dressed up in an old saw about bootstraps.
A truly advanced society would have no need for lotteries.
Whether I buy a ticket or not, I won’t win Mega Millions, or Powerball, or Lucky for Life, and I’ve seen enough of policymaking to know that none of us should be holding our breath for real progress.
But my relationship with time and perception of freedom remain mine to shape, and I feel lucky.
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