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Exercise #16: Annus Mirabilis

I always said I would make the perfect lottery winner. I would not be one of those assholes who win $37 million and manage to blow through it in two years, then end up on food stamps or something. No, I had a plan. If I ever won the lottery, I would invest the money. I would put some into mutual funds and some into safe stocks, and a little bit into the stocks that are too risky for my retirement fund, but that I’ve always thought about gambling on. And I would set some goals for growth and income. Whatever I managed to earn on my investments, some percentage of it would be reinvested, and I would only draw on the excess income for spending money. And if that meant I had to keep working, I would keep working, but at least I wouldn’t end up broke, and I’d have plenty to live on in my retirement.

There was something else I’d read about lottery winners, too, that used to run through my head when I stood in line at the convenience store to buy my tickets every Friday. Somebody did a study that showed that lottery winners aren’t any happier, on average, than anyone else as soon as six months after they win the jackpot. In fact, they even compared lottery winners to people who’d been in terrible accidents and were left partially paralyzed, and lottery winners weren’t any happier than those poor suckers. I guess the more striking fact there is that the paraplegics aren’t any less happy than the general public by the time six months have gone by. People can get used to anything. They can get used to having nothing, and they can get used to having everything. And I guess you’re as happy as you decide to make yourself.

So I always said that if I won the lottery, I would find a way to make myself happy, and I would find a way to keep myself happy. And I started thinking about something else I’d read: that happy and successful people tend to surround themselves with other happy and successful people. And I used to interpret that as meaning that if you’re not lucky enough to be surrounded by happy and successful people, you’re pretty much screwed. But I think there’s another way to look at it. Maybe it means that what you’re supposed to do is whatever you can to make the people around you happy and successful. If you can make some kind of difference in their lives, then they’ll have something extra to give when it comes time to make a difference in your life. I don’t know. I’m not an expert on this kind of thing.

And so I also tried to take that idea into consideration when I waited for the balls to pop up out of the machine and tell me that I’d become a millionaire. I decided I would take some of that money I make on my very sensible and well-planned investment strategy, and I would use it to help the people around me. I would pay the credit card that’s the only thing standing in the way of someone’s going back to school, and I’d also pay her tuition, at least until she’s had enough time to figure out if that’s what she wants to do. I’d pay off a couple of mortgages for people. I’d send one very exhausted guy on a vacation. I would help someone start a business.

Well, my plan didn’t count on how far the stock market could fall in six months, and I guess I figured on having more patience than I actually do have. So I had to start drawing on my principal if I wanted to make some people happy and successful. And then I got laid off from my job, so the next thing I knew, I was having to take living expenses out of that fund, too. I figured as long as I was out of work anyway, if I was going to send my friend on vacation, he might as well have company. Man, did we have a good time.

Note: The assignment was to write about an annus mirabilis—Latin for “wonderful year.”

© 2009 Edward F. Gumnick

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