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Will Winning the Lottery Ruin Your Work Ethic?

$648 million. That was the jackpot for the latest Mega Millions game—a multi-state lottery with hundreds of thousands of entrants. Two winning tickets were sold last week, one to a woman in Georgia, and another one, yet unclaimed, which was sold at a San Jose, CA strip mall. You could take a lot of vacations, support a lot of charities, or perhaps even build another Healthcare.gov with $648 million. But while every entrant dreams of what they would do with their money, there are dozens of stories of men and women whose lives fell apart after actually hitting it big. Drugs, divorce, gambling, financial parasites, and generally imprudent financial behavior put them right back where they started, or worse. So what happened?

Lottery Sign

Of course, many people who play have no experience handling anything more than a modest amount of money. As a result, they often go broke fast. (This same phenomenon afflicts many pro athletes; 78 percent of NFL players, and 60 percent of NBA players for instance, are broke within 5 years of retirement). But I suspect that many winners see their newfound possession of wealth as an opportunity for a lifetime of relaxation. However, because they have no need to go to work to provide for themselves anymore, this relaxation period devolves into idleness. And what is the fruit of idleness? Let’s look at Proverbs 24:30-34 (ESV):

I passed by the field of a sluggard, by the vineyard of a man lacking sense, and behold, it was all overgrown with thorns; the ground was covered with nettles, and its stone wall was broken down. Then I saw and considered it; I looked and received instruction. A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.

The Bible isn’t saying that any break from work is sin. But it does indicate that what we first perceive to be “a little sleep, a little slumber,” can quickly morph into laziness and a diminished work ethic.

[pullquote]     If you stumble into a chunk of unearned wealth, you would be wise to start or keep working at something you love.[/pullquote]

That being said, not all Americans are eager to walk away from their jobs after they hit it big. Recent Gallup polling data shows that 63 percent of workers who were “engaged” at their job said they would keep working there if they won the lottery, compared to 42 percent of “not engaged” workers and 20 percent of “actively disengaged” workers.

Though a counterintuitive conclusion, it seems that a pile of easy cash isn’t enough to compel people who are happy at their jobs to quit. This dovetails with what AEI president Arthur Brooks has written recently: earned success at work goes much further than money in determining whether an individual is “happy” or not.

What’s especially encouraging is that nearly half of young people said they wouldn’t quit their job if they won the lottery. In an age in which psychologists and parents are wondering about the effects of “affluenza” on children, there remains a robust core of young people who say that money wouldn’t change their work habits.

The problem of having too much money is a good one to have. But if you somehow stumble into a chunk of unearned wealth, you would be wise to start or keep working at something you love.