Why I Stopped Playing the Lottery

It’s all about the perception of happiness

I used to play the lottery. Why wouldn’t I? When some curmudgeon or other said “I wouldn’t want to win the lottery because it would ruin my life” I would think if you’re that worried about it pal, give the whole lot to charity.

I couldn’t really see a downside. A couple of quid every week or so and the chance to win £70 once in a while. Perhaps. It was never really about the big win, or so I thought.

But eventually, I stopped. Mostly because I went through some personal epiphanies and a period of enforced soul-searching; not really about the lottery of course, that was just one of the many things that got swept along in a wind of change.

I realised that the lottery is always going to be about the big win. So I stopped playing. The ludicrous odds of hitting the jackpot didn’t bother me, nor did the annual accumulative cost, it was more about the mental statement I was making to myself every time I played.

Whether I liked it or not, playing the lottery divided my life into the present and some glorious, abundant future. It was a subconscious declaration that said “I am treading water now but I can really start living when that big win comes in.”

We all know money doesn’t make people happy. That’s clear. But playing the lottery can make you miss happiness now. At least it did with me. You see your current reality, no matter how rosy it is, no matter how content you may feel, can never, ever compete with a fantasy future.

Much like a relationship can be ruined if you’re always looking for someone that bit more perfect, that bit nearer to the perfect partner in your head, playing the lottery can distract your focus away from what you have and put it squarely on what you don’t have unless your numbers come up.

Ok, so it’s easy – nay, unavoidable – to fantasise about a life of contentment in a big house with no hassles other than what holiday to take next. But the struggles of daily life that we all experience: The grind of getting up early, working hard in meaningless jobs, putting a wash on, hoovering the house, doing the dishes or paying a bill aren’t sideshows. These are not nuisances that will one day be brushed aside. Those struggles, that grind is life. That is your life. You and I live that reality one way or another every day. And those every days become every years. If we begrudge or resist the chores, the hassles, the inconveniences, if we dismiss these frustrations of daily living then we are dismissing our lives.

Buddha said the first great truth is that “life is suffering”. It’s difficult to disagree, he was a pretty insightful chap after all. The struggle, the grind, is the human condition. Life is a process, an ongoing struggle, it isn’t a utopian, sun-drenched destination. To struggle is to be alive. Even if you did win the lottery, the story wouldn’t end there. No amount of money will remove the struggle, it will just change what you’re struggling with.

I remember asking my mother years ago what she’s rather be, poor and happy or rich and miserable. We were an impoverished family and money was a constant stress. She replied “rich and miserable thanks”. It seems like a crazy response but the reality was she didn’t actually want to be miserable. No one does. Like everyone else she just thought that if she was rich and miserable she could somehow use the money to work out how to be happy. That she could buy happiness.

But money is an external factor, much like booze, drugs or the illicit attention from an admirer. They are all external stimuli that promise happiness but cannot deliver.

Sure they might remove some woes – the stress of how the next bill is going to be paid, the existential angst at social gatherings, the concerns that you aren’t lovable – but ultimately, like all external factors, they can’t guarantee anything more than an initial and ever decreasing high.

I’m no guru, but I have begun to realise that happiness is a second hand emotion, a side effect of how we choose to live, how we choose to perceive our lives and ourselves.

Happiness comes from feeling content. It is found in gratitude, forgiveness, it’s manifested by productivity and personal achievement. It’s embedded in helping others and feeling worthy. Like the cartoon above suggests, happiness can only be generated through ourselves and by how we think and act. We are the filter between ourselves and happiness. Nothing else. It is our duty to make an environment for happiness to bloom, we can choose to do that. We have to cultivate real happiness inside simply because it cannot be gifted to us through external stimuli like a lottery win or a double whisky.

So I stopped playing. I stopped ignoring (and worse, hating) what I had in my life. I realised that with every blessing comes a burden so I decided to go easy on the burdens. Most of all, I took the responsibility for my happiness out of the hands of chance and put it into my own hands. It was a declaration to the universe and myself that I am responsible for my happiness and no one else. It’s a scary thought indeed but it’s also one of true emancipation.

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