I didn’t win the Powerball.
So goodbye, island with personal chef. Goodbye, voyage around the world.
Hello, children’s lingering student loans and a 30-year mortgage.
And hello, Monday morning.
I knew you’d be back.
Powerball does get us dreaming, doesn’t it?
That’s why I put money into the biggest lottery ever. The practical me knew I might as well unroll my window and throw a $20 bill into the icy 10-below air. But my friends were in a frenzy, willing to stand in line to buy me tickets. My workmates were selling dreams at their desk. People were kinder in traffic, too, or maybe I’m just making that up.
I get that it’s fun to play the “what if?” game, to imagine a cloud-free existence of happiness, freedom and philanthropy. What I don’t get is why we assume we can’t play that game unless Powerball swoops in to get the party started.
Robyn Green sees this inertia all the time. She calls it “when/then, if/then” thinking. As in, when I win the lottery, my life will start.
“They think, ‘When this happens, I will be happy.’ ‘When I get married, I will feel worthy.’ ‘If I hadn’t been laid off, I wouldn’t be depressed,’ ” said Green, a Minneapolis-based life coach. “People are outsourcing their happiness.”
Her job is to get clients to rethink their own power, which means relying less on external factors (Powerball, an ex, a job) and more on internal personal awareness. Her first exercise with new clients is to ask them to tell her their story.
How they tell the story of who they are, and who they once were, typically reveals limits they’ve placed on themselves and assumptions they’ve made that are keeping them stuck.
“Everyone’s talking about Powerball, but the odds are not in our favor,” Green said. “So what is?”
She worked with one man who took early retirement, then felt at a loss about what to do with himself. He thought Green would give him job coaching, including career aptitude tests he could take to help him figure out what to do next.
Instead, she helped him see that he wasn’t happy because he’d always done what others, his father in particular, thought he should do. He went on to a second career volunteering, filled to the brim with a sense of purpose and value.
‘It’s just a game’
Nancy Mramor, a psychologist with the University of Pittsburgh, sees similar roadblocks in her work.
“A lot of the thinking is related to things people can’t do because they don’t have that kind of money,” said Mramor, who specializes in media coverage of big events.
“With the Powerball, they’d pay off their kids’ mortgages, travel to exotic places, pay off their own student loans. They think, ‘It would just make my life so much easier.’ ”
Like Green, she works with clients to reframe the question:
“What would you do to be happy and to feel fulfilled if you didn’t win the lottery? What do you want to be remembered for? Then pursue those goals.
“Not everybody is going to win the lottery,” she added.
Besides, there are lots of downsides to being that rich. Your island likely doesn’t have Wi-Fi, or a Chipotle.
And as hard as it is to buy this, the majority of big winners will tell you that the windfall was the biggest disaster of their lives. They became rudderless. They were hounded by former friends and strangers wanting a piece of them. Most lost it all.
Even lottery officials urge caution.
“Players should never spend more than they can afford on any lottery ticket,” they said last week. “Please remember, it’s just a game.”
Little moments of happiness, easily accessible, are the real ticket, Mramor said.
“You can tell your kids, ‘I would have paid off your house. Instead I’m going to come over and take the grandkids to the park tomorrow.’ ”
Mramor has edited a book titled “Top Ten Tips for Lasting Happiness,” and Powerball is not in it.
Top among items that are is “social connection, which means real connections, not 800 friends on Facebook,” she said. Also, a positive attitude, and exercise, which has a definite effect on brain chemistry.
“Flow” is another, which she describes as a “creative endeavor in which you forget time and space, such as knitting, dancing or writing, where you just forget yourself.”
Gratitude brings the happy train into the station, too. “Instead of focusing on what you don’t have, focus on what you do have,” she said.
And remember to share it.
There was a popular meme on Facebook claiming that if the Powerball jackpot were divided evenly among every American man, woman and child, we’d each get $4.3 million. Unfortunately, the math was atrociously wrong.
Actually, if we divvied up $1.5 billion in winnings, we’d each get about $4.50.
But if each of us donated a mere $4.50 to the common good, all 300 million-plus of us would instantly create nearly $1.5 billion for something spectacularly healing for our imperfect world.
That kind of dreaming should make us all very happy.