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A successful businessman wins a quarter of a million dollars and it is nice: a bonus, a chance to splurge on new toys, opportunity to retire outstanding debts, or expand their company with a welcome infusion of capital.
A working-class-stiff wins a quarter of a million dollars and it is truly life-changing. A janitor, a gardener, a fast food worker, a guard - with a windfall like that, they can turn their back on roach-infested slum apartment and move to a better neighborhood or buy a small house and a new car. They can quit their hated job, help their families, participate in good life they have only previously experienced as outsiders, looking in.
The problem is that it is non-sustainable. Winning what seems like an enormous amount of money seldom leads to rational investment: education, skill upgrades, saving for future college costs or business opportunities. Moving from nothing to something, in an instant, is not an event likely to produce rational planning. For those whose monetary and emotional needs have never been truly met, immediate gratification is direction of choice. A lifetime of denial demands a certain degree of self-indulgence when means for it become miraculously available.
Is it any wonder that a large percentage of lottery winners file bankruptcy within five years of their win? The moves, changes, life enhancements that substantial wins provide are ephemeral.
In short run, they provide an exciting exit from a black tunnel. In long run, such a win turns negative - because dream has become a reality, even if only for a brief moment, returning to prior levels of existence becomes an even more painful form of imprisonment.
The need to recapture that dream, and perhaps maintain it this time if a mega-million prize can be snatched, keeps gambling industry thriving and promises of dream fulfillment entice us all, most especially poor, into one more venture, one more ticket, one more chance.
Virginia Bola is a licensed clinical psychologist with deep interests in Social Psychology and politics. She has performed therapeutic services for more than 20 years and has studied the effects of cultural forces and employment on the individual. The author of an interactive workbook, The Wolf at the Door: An Unemployment Survival Manual, and a monthly ezine, The Worker's Edge, she can be reached at http://drvirginiabola.blogspot.com