Thursday, December 30, 2010

Winning Millions, Needing Little

On Dec. 28 at Twin Pine Casino & Hotel, Dale Valentine hit the jackpot. He was on the slot machine for the state-wide California Megabucks – and he won $8.4 million.

Dale is a retired firefighter from San Leandro who owns a vacation home in Lake County, where he and his wife spend much of their time, and he’s been a regular customer at Twin Pine Casino over the past 15 years.

In the press release issued on Wednesday by the casino, Dale said he plans to put some money in the bank, make a large donation to Hospice, and to learn how to ride a Harley.

His wife said she would like a larger bathroom and a closet in their house.

When I read that last line, I laughed out loud. Mrs. Valentine didn’t say she wanted a fancy new house. She wasn’t looking for anything spectacular. Just a larger bathroom and a closet.

Oh, if we could all be satisfied by such simple desires!

The cynics out there are probably thinking that the Valentines will be changing their minds soon, finding more expansive ways to spend their millions. But I prefer to believe they are going to hold on to that home-spun goodness, that basic feeling of already having almost enough. If so, they may be among the lucky jackpot winners who actually have money in the bank 10 years down the road, instead of blowing it all on extravagant toys.

It’s New Year’s resolution time again, and I can never resist the urge to examine my life and set out goals, priorities, and aspirations for the coming calendar year. Even though I inevitably fail to live up to most of them, it is a deep-seeded tendency of mine – so much so that I do it throughout the year, not just on Jan. 1.

My main problem is that I make lists that are too long. I never choose just one thing. I want to exercise more, lose weight, stop smoking, practice the piano, brush up on my Japanese, write more regularly, meditate every morning, learn to be a better cook, send my work out to be published, put in more hours volunteering, spend more time with my grandmother, be a better listener, stop negative thinking . . . you can see where I might run into difficulties feeling successful.

But, regardless of past experience, year after year, I make these resolutions, and I draw up charts and diagrams and lists. I set up schedules, and try to follow them. For a few weeks, maybe even a month, I am as disciplined as a Marine. I cannot be swayed from the course. Inevitably, however, something jostles me, bumps me off track, and I gradually veer off into a staccato pattern of start-stop, start-stop, start – and then the final, gut-wrenching, slamming crash.

I am not, at heart, driven much by material goals. So the immediate analogy to the slot machine winner might not be apparent. Having $8.4 million would be nice – but only in that it would allow me 24 hours a day seven days a week to work on all of those other things I just mentioned.

The real connection, I think, is in the simplicity of the wishes given by Mrs. Valentine. She didn’t call out a laundry list of desires. She started with something small and attainable, something she knew would give her pleasure, but at the same time, was not grand in any way.

I have a quote from the Dalai Lama written on a large sheet of construction paper up on my home office wall. It says:

Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.

What if, in 2011, instead of making a list of “Fifty Things I Need to Improve About Myself,” I decided to read that quote every morning? Because if I could focus on that one thing, I would feel better about myself, better about other people, and better about the world – which would make for a pretty good year.


  1. Michelle, I always appreciate your thoughtful posts. I'm with you on making a short list, and for me this year it's two things: grow the blog to a sustainable level and do some good while I'm at it (a big goal, but doable, I hope), and get my fitness back to pre-New York levels. I don't have too far to go on that one, I just need to commit and take the baby steps to get there.

    Wishing you the best new year full of daily kindness.

  2. You've just simplified my life. I'm in the midst of reducing my possessions by 1/3 with a deadline of 1/1/11, and I've hardly tossed a paper or culled a book or set up files for submitting work for publication or even learned how to use my new cell phone! You and the Dalai Lama have made my day! Thanks! I'm off the "time hook." Now,maybe I'll get SOMETHING done! ;-)

  3. good quotation--thanks for sharing. Have a good new year!!

  4. Love your thoughts. Have a good 2011.

  5. Deonne - So great to hear from you! I haven't been keeping up on Scamping. I promise to do better.
    Gail, glad I could help.
    And Happy New Year to Alison and Marj, too!