Thursday, May 24, 2007

Affluenza Strikes Again

What do you call an illness of the mind and heart to endlessly chase material goods in the pursuit of happiness? Think 'affluence' + 'influenza' = 'affluenza'. Based on a PBS documentary, there is a book that explains what this is all about. On the back cover jacket of the book, the authors give a pseudo-dictionary definition.

affluenza, n. a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more. (Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic; John D Graaf, David Wann, Thomas H. Naylor; Berrett Koehler; San Fransisco; 2001)

The problem is that affluenza is easier to detect as a condition of a society or large group, but it is difficult to diagnose ourselves. I think a large part of that difficulty is because we don't want to look at ourselves, especially in that way. But even if we successfully divert attention away from ourselves as we point to the society in which we live as suffering from affluenza, we have to admit that we live in that society. I know I've said to myself and my friends that I want to "simplify my life." But what does that really mean? What have I actually accomplished to reverse this condition creeping over me? Honestly? I've gotten real good at creating a diversion. (Think I could be President someday?)

How about you? Do you think you suffer from some degree of this condition? On the other hand, do you think 'affluenza' does not apply to you? Why not? Have you told yourself or others that you want to simplify your life? How successful have you actually been? If you were successful, what did you have to do? How did you have to change your attitude and habits? If you were not successful, how honest are you being with yourself about it?

As always, I look forward to your comments. Feel free to comment on previous posts, too.


Rebecca said...

Not sure that I look at the acquisition of things simply for the sake of their acquisition as a means of securing happiness. That said, I can admit to looking around at my peers and finding my situation "wanting", even though in terms of actual necessity I want for nothing. (except to replace things that are breaking down).

As for simplifying one's life, I think that is something we strive for as we get older. We accumulate layers, or have then heaped upon us, only to shake them off beginning at around 40, in my opinion.


Holly said...

I caught affluenza from my husband. In fact, at the time, since I wanted to share the lifestyle my husband desired so badly, I didn't realize the path we were headed towards. (And to be perfectly honest, I was too young to be making decisions about marriage and finances responsibly.)
Many years and many thousands of dollars later, with a relationship in pieces for a variety of reasons, we had to divide debts in the divorce rather than assests. I've been paying down my portion over the last few years, and I've made some real progress. I do still occasionally struggle with "wanting" vs. "needing" but now I'm far more realistic about what I can afford.
I think buyer's remorse is my saving grace. Most people have buyer's remorse AFTER they've purchased something they shouldn't. I have my buyers remorse BEFORE purchasing an item. Most of the time this prevents me from making unnecessary purchases.

Dwight said...

Ouch! Splitting debts sounds painful. Thanks for sharing that Holly. I wonder if you could call your current condition 'buyer premorse'. :-) I could probably use some of that. I wish it was as contagious as affluenza.

Thank you, too, rp. Personally, I'm surprised to even discover these 'accumulated layers' after taking them for granted for so long. ("What's this doing in my life. Why did I want this?")

Katherine said...

I've just been used to being poor. Started with living under the poverty line and kind of continues now to some point. When you go into education and make the conscious choices to pursue your dreams (in my case, as an Engish major), you don't do it because you expect to earn lots of money. You do it because it IS YOUR PASSION. But there is a price to pay for that. You kind of stay poor unless you get a Doctorate and tenure. And even then, you will never be "rich."