An interesting measure of our overall happiness is our answer to the question. "what would you do if you won the lottery?" I've asked myself the same question this month, mostly for the reason that virtually everything mechanical or electronic I own decided to break during the past four weeks; my phone, my car, my desktop PC and laptop are amongst the casualties. I could thus answer the question for myself along the lines of "replacing each of the above, plus a nice flat somewhere"- referring to the perennial problem of ministry that when you retire, you don't have anywhere to live. Overall, my answer suggests that I'm generally pretty content with my lot. It seems to me that the more removed our answer to the lottery question takes us from what we actually already have in our lives, the less happy we are with what we have.
There is a fascinating study of lottery winners in America from the 1970's that suggests that winning the lottery won't make us any happier. The study suggests that one year after their win, people were either as happy, or not happy as they were prior to the win- after a year they had adjusted to the fact that they had more money in the bank and then had to face the same set of problems with their lives that they always had. The truism that money cannot buy happiness seemingly has some merit.
If we can go beyond thinking that money will make us happy, the question “what would you do if you won the lottery?” can be very interesting. I think it can reveal to us what it is that we actually want. Some answers by real lottery winners, Viv Nicholson’s famous reply when she won the pools in 1961 “spend, spend, spend,” seems rather sad. (That she did spend it all in four years, and ended up alone and bankrupt, is a salutory warning.) Likewise one lottery winner’s claim that they were going to quit their job and “do
nothing” seems tragic. If we ask ourselves the same question, we may come closer to finding out what it is actually we want to do with our lives. If our answer is not akin to “torment James Bond from within a hollowed-out volcano” then perhaps we can feel better about ourselves. Perhaps we may also find that it isn’t a lack of money which prevents us from doing what we want (and thus ask ourselves if anything is really stopping us from doing that right now). And we will find that the closer our answer comes to the life we are already living, the happier we are. So, what would you do if you won the lottery? Let me know.
Revd. Tom Atfield