The Sweepstakes Bodhisattva Speaks

I won’t start off by telling you that I’ve never won anything; no, I’ve had my small share of victories in various minor games of chance. In my youth, I won a couple of “Guess How Many x Are In The Jar” things for a number of trinkets and toylets. In my adulthood, I’ve won enough free tickets in state lotteries to merely lament wasting $999s of dollars instead of thousands of dollars. I even win a gift every year in the company’s gift swap. But I’ve never made the big score: the television, the car, the big decorative check.

I’ve completed sweepstakes forms. I’ve listened to the advice of innumerable bottle caps and have tried again. Five years later, I still visit iWon.com for my daily chances to win. I continue spending a latte’s worth of my salary every week on my futile bid for state-sponsored number-running millions. My current strategy relies upon repetition of normal behavior: I go to the same Web site, I go to the same courtesy counter every week and buy the same set of numbers (the random ones), or I fill out the enclosed form and mail it off. So I’ve decided to alter my methodology.

With a flash of neo-Buddhist insight, I realized that my sweepstakes and contest entries have all sought to win prizes that I actually want for my own personal gratification. Money, new home theaters, and new cars would enrich my personal life. I would use their fruits in my daily pursuit of physical and materialist ease and pleasure. As such, of course Fortune does not favor me with these presents. Instead, I need to seek those prizes which I could neither use nor enjoy; only then could I grow spiritually through the gifts of random chance.

For example, I don’t travel much; I’m a little edgy leaving the warmth and comfort of the Midwest. For me, a good vacation is a long weekend in Springfield, Missouri, or Milwaukee, Wisconsin—familiar cities where I have relatives and where I know the coffee shops in which to read. So when Clausthaler offered me the chance to win a trip to a golf resort, I filled out my vitals and spent a stamp to send off the entry. A trip thousands of miles to play a sport I’ve only tried once, badly, in my youth. Certainly, the Fates can frown on me with this grand prize.

To keep with the reluctant traveler motif, I’ve recently entered a sweepstakes for an African Safari, which includes hunting on the savannah. I’ve not been hunting since my youth, when I spent several scattered days in cold marshes at dawn to bond with my father. I’ve never actually hunted by carrying a gun. I don’t have a passport, my immunizations are not up to date, and I’m not eager to leave the country for the continent that inspired Heart of Darkness and Anaconda. The prize would actually inconvenience me. No doubt Nike—the goddess and not the company—is signing the appropriate forms on Olympus even now.

Aside from those big, and travelsome, prizes, I’ve started looking closer to home for smaller scores. When local restaurants offer fishbowls in which customers can drop their business cards for the chance at a free meal, I only drop my business card in if it comes with strings attached, such as an hour’s consultation with a financial consultant whose first lesson is There is no such thing as a free lunch. Certainly, I have a shot at that grand prize.

I’ll continue entering sweepstakes, including the Publishers’ Clearinghouse and Readers’ Digest contests. By not purchasing, I’m not hurting my chances to win, but I’m really hoping that by not wanting, I’ll bolster my chances. Ergo, when given the choice between the sports car and the minivan, I’m licking the minivan stamp every time. Someday in the future, should you find me tooling around in a Dodge Caravan, know that I am not only a winner, but I am learning a lesson in self-deprecation.