A Spendthrift’s Dream 

You occasionally read articles about big lottery winners who somehow blow through their fortunes and wind up with nothing. How do they manage this? The answer lies in the question. For the most part, lottery winners are ordinary folk who have no idea how to manage money – or at least not that kind of money. People who know how to manage that kind of money are, by and large, the ones who earn it the old-fashioned way; that is to say, they invest and save and work hard for it rather than buy lottery tickets.

Hard-luck stories about lottery winners tend to attract notice because they conform to the money-can’t-buy-happiness stereotype. At least these stories provide some consolation to those who never had the opportunity to find out for themselves. Still, it is remarkable how often the victims of the so-called “sudden money syndrome” come to grief, whether through bankruptcy, divorce, isolation from former peers, depression, suicide, or even murder. They go on spending sprees. They fall prey to greedy relatives, importuning friends, strangers with get-rich-quick schemes. They descend into alcoholism, drug addiction or compulsive gambling. Why gamble when they are already rich beyond reason? Because that is already their tendency. Having gotten lucky on a millions-to-one shot, what do they have to lose? Everything, as it turns out, which is why a third of lottery winners reportedly go broke within five years.

If money can’t buy happiness, what can? The usual answer is that happiness can’t be bought, but that is true only to the extent that it can’t be purchased with cash. We need to try a different medium of exchange, one that doesn’t merely fuel our insatiable desires. There is such a currency, but it defies the normal laws of economics. It is, in fact, a spendthrift’s dream: the more you spend, the more you have. You can never overdraw your account. There is a catch, of course. The converse is also true: the less you spend, the less you have. To be a miser is to impoverish yourself. And although you can spend as much as you like, it can never be spent directly on yourself or on gratifying your own desires. What is this magical currency? Nothing less than the basic energy of the universe. It is love.

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