The longer I live the more convinced I become that it's not the amount of money a person has but what he or she does with it that makes the difference between a life of joy and one of misery.
Years ago, a friend of mine won the New York Lottery, with guaranteed annual checks of $200,000 for 10 years. $2 million seemed too good to be true. Brett was over the moon with joy because he knew his days of financial misery were over. He could pay off all of his debts and buy the car he needed so badly for his young family and a new home, too. Just like that, he was a millionaire. And boy, was he happy. He couldn't write those checks fast enough. He bought a new car the following weekend, and they bought their dream home, as well.
Here's the problem: Brett had no idea how to manage the money. He didn't think about state and federal taxes, which turned $200,000 a year into about $150,000. He didn't understand that financing that new top-of-the-line luxury automobile over six years to preserve his cash meant gigantic new monthly payments. It didn't dawn on him that going into a huge 30-year mortgage (qualified by those big lottery payout checks to come) with the smallest down payment allowed would turn his $800-a-month rent into a five-figure mortgage payment.
Of course, Brett felt more than able to shower his wife and kids with new clothes and trips to Disney World, but his happiness was short-lived because his sudden wealth was something that happened to him, not an attitude that he chose. He let his emotions get the better of him and failed to make the right choices.
Kay Warren, in her book "Choose Joy" (http://www.everydaycheapskate.com/choosejoy), says that joy is something we choose in spite of our circumstances. Happiness, she contends, is what happens to you, and it can come and go. But, says Warren, "if you're going to experience joy, you must choose it — in spite of, even if, and in the middle of everything else."
Brett found happiness, but he didn't know how to choose joy. When his small financial problems were replaced with huge ones, his happiness vanished. In attempting to pay off all his debts, he managed to convert the problems into much bigger debts, both personally and for his struggling business.
In the end, his misery escalated far beyond what he knew before his moment of happiness. Because he'd pledged all of his future lottery payout checks to secure his outrageous new lifestyle, he lost his business, filed for bankruptcy and ended up paying alimony and child support after his marriage failed.
Today, no matter what situation you're facing — be it something that makes you happy or a situation that has you down in the dumps — you have a choice: You can continue to live under that emotion or rise above your circumstances and choose joy.
If I could talk with Brett today, I am certain he would affirm wholeheartedly the message of Warren's book: Choose joy, because happiness will never be enough.
Mary invites questions, comments and tips at [email protected] or c/o Everyday Cheapskate, 12340 Seal Beach Blvd., Suite B-416, Seal Beach, CA 90740. This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of www.DebtProofLiving.com, a personal finance member website and the author of "Debt-Proof Living," released in 2014. To find out more about Mary and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.