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Published March 31 2012

Swift: Lotto winners have whole lot o’ problems

I had hoped that by the time you read this I would be crossing the ocean in my own jet while having my bunions massaged by a hip Hollywood heartthrob like Lucas Tatum Gosling or Jake Channing Worthington.

That’s right, at the time when I wrote this, I aspired to win the Mega Millions jackpot. I joined in a pool with 15 optimistic colleagues in the hopes of bringing home the record-breaking $640 million prize.

Alas and alack, we did not win. Instead, some lucky slouches in Kansas, Illinois and Maryland will divvy up the record-breaking pie. It will be interesting to follow their stories. After all, lottery winners seem to follow a fairly typical path. More often than not, we’ll see them on TV and hear them say one of the following statements:

“I want to continue working.” This one baffles me. I just can’t understand past lotto winners who declare they will continue to show up at the office at 6 a.m. every day to carry on their rewarding work as a flavored asbestos taster or a roadkill extraction specialist.

Some of the winners say they want to continue working because they need their lives to remain as “normal” as possible. Others claim they need to feel like they still have a purpose in life.

It just doesn’t make sense. Couldn’t you also acquire a sense of purpose by starting a food pantry for the homeless or launching a support program for at-risk youths? Do you really get your sense of purpose by explaining to the accounting department why your expense report is 11 cents off or bickering with your co-workers over whose turn it is to buy K-cups for the office Keurig?

If I won the lottery, I would still work – but only if I could do so with the laissez-faire attitude modeled by Ron Livingston’s protagonist in the 1999 cult classic, “Office Space.” First on my agenda: driving my new, gold-plated Humvee over that Honda that’s been parked in the Employee of the Month spot for the last 97 days.

“I went through all of my money and am now living in a hog feeder on the outskirts of town.” Granted, it’s difficult to be money-smart if you’ve gone from living paycheck to paycheck to possessing more moolah than the richest person in your state. No wonder you feel that initial urge to splurge on a portrait by Leonard Nimoy or a robot slave from Japan.

Even so, you must get a grip. At some point, when you’re in the midst of blowing the whole $52 million, you really need to have an honest talk with yourself. “Hmmm, maybe I don’t need to hire Stevie Nicks to perform at my 8-year-old’s birthday,” you might say. Or: “Perhaps this decision to spend millions to help Mel Gibson resurrect his career is misguided.”

The truth is that no one feels sorry for lottery winners who have gone bust. There’s nothing noble about being handed a golden opportunity and then frittering it away. That’s why you don’t see anyone holding bake sales for MC Hammer.

“I don’t think the woman who married me after I became a bazillionaire really loved me.” What? WHAT? That 20-year-old aspiring beer poster model you threw your wife of 37 years over for didn’t just love you for your ZZ Top-style manscaping and your encyclopedic knowledge of bowhunting DVDs? How odd.

“I’m not any happier than when I was poor.” Time and time again, studies show that lottery winners aren’t any happier than the rest of us poor schlubs. That’s partly because a sudden windfall also blows in a gust of other problems: taxes, legal snags, marriage proposals, shirttail relatives with sob stories and even death threats.

But there’s good news, too: One way lotto winners can feel better is by giving. A 2008 study in Science found people were happier spending $20 on others than they were on themselves. Conversely, when they were stingy, it triggered a sense of shame.

Just think. If doling out $20 can make someone feel that much better, imagine what a gift of $20,000 could do.

Need to get rid of some of your guilt and cash?

I’m here to help.


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Readers can reach Forum reporter Tammy Swift at (701) 241-5525 or tswift@forumcomm.com