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The Big One
A Miracle Maker
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Run of Hollow
We Got Married
Like About Bob
Man of Earth
Keep It Moving
Get Her Done!
Not for Sale
Well before the day of the drawing my familiar pattern of analysis returned: I began to speculate – not quite worry – about what I would do if I actually won the prize.
NOT WINNING THE LOTTERY
by Jerry Murley
Luck – or not – depends on which way the mind moves. Pain – or not – can be a similar phenomenon.
Having had more good fortune than should be expected – and much more than deserved – why would a man entertain entering a lottery? How does such a man imagine that he could benefit from more?
In past weeks, I have been tempted by two drawings for big prizes. Our local public radio station had a drawing for a trip to Alaska. Then I read in the newspaper about a drawing for a new house in a nearby upscale community that would entice anyone nearing retirement age or who has fields to mow or friends and family in need of a place to live.
I did enter myself and my wife into the raffle for the trip to Alaska. Well before the day of the drawing my familiar pattern of analysis returned: I began to speculate – not quite worry – about what I would do if I actually won the prize. Though a cruise to Alaska sounded attractive in the middle of a Southern heat wave, I started thinking about the drawbacks: exposure to great quantities of unhealthy food, loss of my morning walks by the creek, absence from my garden, keeping on schedule with my work.
Weighing the purchase of the ticket for the drawing that promised a new dream house followed a similar line of thinking, though I never bought a ticket: It would be obscene to own another house when I am perfectly content with the one I have. What would I do to right the ethical imbalance and avoid the bothersome upkeep? Would I give the house away to family members in need of a house? Would I let friends stay there and perhaps anger the neighbors in the attractive community where the house was located? Would I sell the house and give the proceeds to charity and buy myself that cement mixer that I have needed now and again?
My reasoning tells me that I have been luckier in life than I deserve to be. My sense of proportion counsels me to not tease fate. When I casually enter myself into a contest of luck for a big prize, I suddenly feel guilt – and am visited with the foreknowledge of certain disappointment – at the prospect of winning, of attaining that which I really don't need but which I faintly want simply because it has been marketed as available to the lucky one, the winner, the possessor. Not winning the dream prize can be mighty good luck too.
There is much more involved in this logic – or should I simply call it a personal idiosyncrasy in my thought processes – or excessive caution: I like to position my thinking so that not winning is equally or more attractive than winning. That's a win-win proposition that I find reliable and comforting; that's an outcome that maintains my equilibrium before, during, and after the fact.
This goes along with another tendancy I have: I often view purchases that I would like to make but do not make as actual gains in my financial standing. I factor the expenses that I avoided as the equivalent of earnings. For instance, if I am on the verge of buying a new pickup truck but do not, then I think not that I have saved several thousand dollars but that I have made several thousand. I feel richer for the wanting – and better for the self denial or deferment – than I would have had I not imagined the desire in the first place. Sensing relief from foregone entanglement, I perceive something akin to moral resolve for having stopped at the brink, spurning the allure of gain and preventing the loss of reserves, whether of money, of energy, or of caring attention – though I hesitate to compare an avoidance of material encumbrance and monetary outlay with an ethical decision. Perhaps I experience these positive effects of purchase avoidance because in my imagination I have already expended the joy of owning the new object and exhausted its utility.
Imagination is a big player in effective buyer's remorse. For me, this remorse as a consumer occurs before I get to the checkout counter or before I actually go to the store or online outlet or prior to making the fatal step of opening the package from a recent purchase. In other words, the most effective buyer's remorse is not buying. That is what imagined buying can achieve.
There is another angle to this as well. This aspect can go under the heading of not making a big deal out of things that really don't matter or are not worth it. There is a story about one of my sisters-in-law. She was once on a plane with Sidney Poitier. She fretted much of the flight about what she would say to the famous actor. Then, with much relief, she realized that she didn't have to say anything at all to him. That is another side of not winning the lottery: You don't have to deal with the ethical and social issues involved when you suddenly become richer and others around you have not. You don't have to deal with additional things that you don't need anyway. It is a reasonable exercise to imagine what one would do if unexpected wealth fell to one. It is a terrific relief to be unburdened by not even entering the lottery – by not winning a contest that doesn't merit the effort.
So next time, while on your morning walk, you encounter N. Kidman jogging, you don't have to say anything to her: just savor the coincidence of proximity – a nobody and an ultra-somebody inhabiting an instant in the same environs. Except maybe you can say, "Good morning," as you would commonly say to the lowest of the low among us on a chance passing. That won't tax you a bit.
Is a burglary unlucky – or lucky in that you have something worth stealing and in that there wasn't more damage done? Is a tornado and a flood unlucky – or lucky in that it wasn't worse for you than it could have been? Is the loss of a longtime friend unlucky – or lucky in that you had a longtime friend? Are the one, two, three, four dread diseases unlucky – or lucky in that you survived and refocused your life after every one? In summary, is it unlucky to have lived an imperfect life – or lucky to have acquired the wisdom to know the difference?
Your best luck is lucky for more than just you. While you shape your luck, you don't exactly determine it. You benefit from the exertion of defining your luck and better choosing the luck to pursue. That is what imagining your luck can do.