Have you ever, knowingly or unknowingly, placed money above all other priorities in your life? Have you ever passed over the lower-cost, generic product for the higher-priced product that carries more social prestige? Do you believe the only thing that can bring more happiness than money is more money?
If we are being honest, I will be the first to raise my hand and admit my guilt on all three of those, especially in my past. If you can make the same admission you may have been struck by a case of affluenza.
According to Wikipedia, affluenza is a term used by critics of consumerism that derives its name and meaning from a blended combination of affluence and influenza. I've run across the term before but thought it would be interesting to make our own philosophical observation and analysis here at TFP...
Before doing so, let's take a look at a few more of the key points made on the Wikipedia entry:
- Affluenza: a socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more.
- Proponents of the term consider the costs of prizing material wealth vastly outweigh the benefits. They claim those who become wealthy will find the economic success leaving them unfulfilled and hungry for more wealth.
- Affluenza is considered to be most present in the United States, where the culture encourages its citizens to measure their worth by financial success and material possessions.
- Mainstream media outlets, such as television broadcasts, tend to demonstrate how pervasive the idea has become; and by the same token, the same media outlets reinforce the values to the viewers.
My observation is that, while there are some exceptions, these points are generally true. As you may expect, however, I disagree with the fundamental suggestion that affluenza is a disease. Instead, I believe that it is a symptom of the greater disease of being human, and the only cure to that disease is self-awareness.
I find myself agreeing most with the final point that highlights the mainstream media's misleading promotion of wealth and the acquisition of material things as a means to obtain happiness.
There certainly is no shortage of media sources, especially books, that tell us to spend less than we make or suggest ways to get rich and retire young. The majority of these sources, with good intentions or not, suggest that our unhappiness may be only a flaw in our strategy to pursue material wealth but rarely suggest that the pursuit of material wealth, itself, is actually the flaw.
"What is important in life is life, and not the result of life." ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
The path to a meaningful existence is, without a doubt, found through the pursuit of self-awareness. This path is long and winding but absolutely fulfilling. Here are a few sources that appeal to me that may be of use to you in curing affluenza and in finding your own path:
- Human vs Individual: In summary, once we recognize that our human tendencies are often in conflict with our best interests, we are on our way to a meaningful life.
- We Can't Predict Happiness: Dr. Daniel Gilbert, author of "Stumbling on Happiness," says that "people have an inability to predict what will make us happy -- or unhappy. If you can't tell which futures are better than others, it's hard to find happiness. The truth is, bad things don't affect us as profoundly as we expect them to. That's true of good things, too. We adapt very quickly to either. So the good news is that going blind is not going to make you as unhappy as you think it will. The bad news is that winning the lottery will not make you as happy as you expect." Read the full New York Times article, A Conversation With Daniel Gilbert: The Smiling Professor, (Hat Tip to TFP Reader, "Charles").
- Where Can We Find Happiness? True happiness or well-being is entirely an internal creation and not one from the physical world. Recent studies reveal that the old science assumption that the adult brain is unchangeable is fundamentally incorrect. The studies further demonstrated that mental training had the power to change the physical structure of the brain. The brain can be rewired so there is hope for you after all!
- More Money is not More Happiness: Happiness Economics reveal that the richest nations, such as America, are not the happiest. Rich countries may be generally happier than poor ones, but once extreme poverty is overcome, the connection between wealth and happiness weakens.
What are your thoughts of affluenza? Once our basic and physiological needs are met, can more money really bring us more happiness? How much is enough?
Related Post: The Diminishing Marginal Utility of Wealth