Magic Bullets: Lessons from Social Media and Lottery Jackpots

March 19, 2019
James Whittaker

Check out this episode on the Win the Day Podcast

“Quick riches are more dangerous than poverty.”

Napoleon Hill

Feelings Amplified

Most people spend all their life wishing for things they haven’t earned, while only a small percentage make the effort to get them. If we’re unhappy in our current state, we’re more likely to harbor negative feelings towards those who’ve ‘made it’ or are enjoying things we wish we had.

Social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram emerged as a way for people to share snapshots of their life. As a result, a significant portion of our daily routine now involves frequent glances at what someone else is doing. Each snapshot we observe is accompanied by a like, comment and share button, a clear metric of celebrity and influencer clout.

Of course, consciously we know the truth about celebrity and influencer accounts: their images are usually taken by a leading photographer wielding a professional SLR camera, who then selects the best image from 100 shots in 10 different locations, edits out any wrinkles or perceived imperfections, and finishes it off with a filter.

Voila! Gram-worthy.

But being aware that this is happening often doesn’t stop us from the inner turmoil that accompanies such a comparison.

Interestingly, we typically only use social media when we’re vulnerable—perhaps we’re feeling lonely or bored at home, commuting to/from work, or simply want a distraction. Rarely would we open one of these platforms when we’re completely present in the moment, on a fun date, or spending quality time with family.

As a result, in our most vulnerable moments, we not only crave what other people have, we rank our social and personal worth on it, too. This is known as social comparison theory, which analyzes the part of human nature that causes us to continually compare ourselves to others. In fact, we tell ourselves that happiness is not the journey but the destination—the destination that we believe others are at, which continues to elude us.

Instant Celebrity

Enter the lottery jackpot, a phenomenon that’s popular the world over.

You may recall the hysteria in January 2016 surrounding the $1.6 billion-dollar prize that clogged news networks and social media feeds, as people eagerly handed over wads of cash for the 1-in-300 million chance of winning the jackpot—the ultimate shortcut to instant celebrity.

To put those odds into perspective, you’re four times more likely to die from an asteroid strike. Yet, it still doesn’t stop people from participating: Americans spend $73 billion on lottery tickets each year, equating to $223 per person!

Obviously in the commercials, Powerball leaves out some important details:

  1. If the winner opts for the lump sum payment, they will receive 38% less;
  2. The IRS takes 24% of gambling winnings;
  3. The winner will be taxed at the highest income rate of 37% (plus applicable state taxes);
  4. The prize will be split between all the winning tickets; and
  5. Lottery winners do not report any significant upswing in happiness and mental health.

Note: Lottery payouts and tax implications vary around the world. The US has been used here for consistency. If you plan on winning the lottery (or getting hit by an asteroid), look up the implications in your own region.

In fact, economist and research scientist Jay L. Zagorsky found that rather than discovering a cure for financial woes, lottery winners ended up in more financial distress, with bankruptcy rates soaring within three to five years of claiming their prize.

But it’s not just winning the coveted jackpot that creates financial hardship. Zagorsky also noted that a large financial gift of any kind, such as an inheritance, quickly disappeared through “spending or poor investments.”

Easy come, easy go.

Be Careful What You Sow

This is the law of sowing and reaping: you cannot reap before you have sown.

Importantly, you also reap much more than you have sown. Planting a single cup of corn can yield bags and bags of corn. Unfortunately, people forget that the law of sowing and reaping works in both the positive and the negative. If you plant toxic seeds in your own life, down the line you’re going to be confronted with a whole heap of misery.

Whether it’s instant weight loss secrets, becoming a forex trading millionaire overnight, or any other snake oil, there is no magic bullet—and run from anyone trying to sell it to you.

Basketball superstar Michael Jordan once said: “Some people want it to happen, some wish it would happen, others make it happen.” Plant the right seeds in your own life, be vigilant in protecting them, and enjoy the compounding rewards in the future.

Don’t leave your fate to a 1-in-300 million chance.

Onwards and upwards always,
James W.

In case you missed it: ‘10 Tips to Handle the Haters’ (blog audio)

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