The other virus, Affluenza. Is society sick?

Affluenza, a sickness of self, society and western cultures?

Sounds like an essay title!

The affluence pandemic. Also goes by other names such as the image pandemic, ego pandemic, consumption pandemic and keeping up with the Jones’ pandemic. I think you catch my drift.

Much has been written about this type of thing, trying to unpick precisely what it is about people that leads to this mind set.

“We pay a heavy price for that wispy thing called status….It can be the enemy of contentment” Psychology Today.

Maximise Minimalism offers seven plausible reasons why people become obsessed with material possessions, that we instinctively know to be true.

Diverting from a state of affluenza usually has you looked at as being a bit different or brave for going against the grain. Perhaps you should take that as a compliment (intended or not).

Maybe you’ve done a bit of soul searching developing some immunity to affluenza, a mind shift?

This isn’t strictly a book review, it’s a very relevant subject in general, regardless of the book.

AFFLUENZA by Oliver James

The title got my attention, the cover drew me in – I expected some sort of fictional story, but this isn’t a work of fiction.

Oliver James spoke to people from all walks of life about happiness and contentment against symptoms of Affluenza.

He interviewed 240 people across destinations including Moscow, New York, Singapore, New Zealand, Australia, Shanghai, Copenhagen. The affluenza pandemic was most widespread in America at the time of writing, along with those countries most strongly influenced by the US.

Symptoms of Affluenza

There’s a strong link between the rise of industrialised societies and emotional distress/ depression.

This is mixed with the bombardment of consumer culture (vain ‘orchestrated want’ rather than need) and the idolisation of appearances, status and wanting to impress by ticking imposed boxes of social acceptance.

Not far behind, we find internal emptiness, filled with things, the wrong people, soul or health destroying careers, addictions, aka ‘snatched snacks of reality, and quick fixes’, as Oliver puts it!


‘False wants vs true desires, an actor in a play rather than living a real life.’ 

Chameleonism (good word!!)

Things that influence affluenza symptoms: 

  • Religious/spiritual persuasion (or lack of) and over-reliance on material vices
  • Insecurities
  • Some argue pre-determined biological factors
  • Childhood experiences, e.g. where affection was largely a reward for being a perceived winner and shortcomings gained more attention than anything else
  • Experiences of poverty and the values that blossom from this
  • Broken relationships/divorce
  • Where you grew up – fast city life vs a slower pace
  • Being born into extreme wealth (indications of greater depression and unhappiness)
  • Inner feelings of self
  • Personal resilience
  • Role models
  • Gratitude/perspective
  • Amount of time spent watching TV/films
  • Comparisons to others – esp those seemingly more advanced
  • Advertising – convincing us that we need something. A product with a promise we’re meant to fall for – enhanced beauty, attractiveness, style, the envy of your friends, better than the person who doesn’t have the whatever it is….maintaining a constant state of social inadequacy

“…..the consumer must be permanently dissatisfied, or gratified only for the shortest possible time. Satisfaction would stop consumption, which would stall economic growth. This society needs people with an exaggerated sense of the importance of work, a false need for things and an endless desire to consume, no deep feelings or convictions, standardised tastes, suggestibility and uncritical minds”  

“Church gets you out of yourself, you’re so renewed, so hopeful, disconnected from all the rubbish, and it challenges you to think of the big things” (quote from an interviewee).

Sometimes we need to make a change.

“A lot of people are just grinding their lives out”turning point rubber stamp

The other day, a grocery delivery man told me he used to work for a local council in the UK, he said his job caused him a lot of stress that led him taking a lot of time off sick. In the end he packed the job in, and now has a few jobs he does and has more control over the hours he works. He broke free…

On week days he works for a transport company and also fits in some engineering (rail track work) and says he’s much happier now – though the stress of maintaining the ‘bank of dad’ for his student daughter still remains 😉

In the UK “The total number of cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety over 2019/20” was estimated to be significantly higher compared to the previous period, and accounted for more than 50% of all workplace related illness and sickness absence. This pattern seems to have been increasing over previous years. Source

Ideas for preventing and controlling symptoms of affluenza – what would you add to the list?

Stand firm

Good old fashioned integrity over image and appearances.

Have a bigger picture, and indulge in gratitude

Be it spiritual, religious, or a philosophy that gives broader meaning to life than the norms, values and perceptions dominating society.

Have fun, let yourself go

While talking about how happy people are in Singapore, one of Oliver’s interviewees made reference to his friend “ ….he takes Friday afternoons off work and doesn’t tell his wife so that he can go to the arcade and play video games with his old school mates”  😛

He had a very repetitive and mundane job as a sales manager apparently. Sad that he had to hide it from his wife though…wonder what she’d say?

kids playing arcade gamesboys playing car racing in an arcade

Moral of the story – life is to be enjoyed, not just endured, make time to go to your happy places, or back to your inner child again!

“The three characteristics that most contented, emotionally mature people I met seemed to have in common were authenticity, vivacity and playfulness”

Normalise talking about your thoughts and emotions

“…in much of the developing world, people we might regard as depressed usually talk about physical symptoms, such as tiredness or aches and pains rather than their emotions or thoughts”lunch in restaurant

Try and live within your means

Like the author of Affluenza points out – taking a mortgage six times your salary is not a true reflection of your wealth, and brings many risks and restrictions to your financial health and freedom. I’m not sure if this type of lending has slowed down since 2020, probably! Bear in mind longer term financial planning…..

‘Early Retirement Now’ talks about ‘stealth frugality’ – a helpful catchy concept. The glossy media seems to overlook the fact that a lot of wealthy people actually live quite frugally. Just because you acquire more wealth doesn’t mean you need to spend it on more things, or more expensive things.

Please yourself, rather than striving for the approval of others (including family). Let go of the status quo

Within reason of course. I’m not suggesting any criminal activity or behavior that hurts or harms others.

“….forget about how you look through others’ eyes, concentrate on what you find pleasing and amusing”

concept happy text with smiling mouth

Conclusion: surprised?

You probably won’t be surprised by the overall theories in the book.

Affluenza, by Oliver James peels back a thick layer of materialism that sweeps the modern western world, with tips to help you not get scucked in – or begin to pull yourself out.

Much of this is psychological, rooted in how we let our inner thoughts affect our choices and patterns in life, all of which impact overall health, feelings of happiness and contentment – a part of the soul.

Capitalism and advertising work hand in hand to create a state of want, and a desire to consume, to compete and out-do… keep you wanting and purchasing more, because it’s good for the economy, right!

Oliver’s research found those with low incomes tended to be happier and less depressed. High earners felt trapped in a vicious cycle of stressful jobs, keeping up appearances an maintaining lifestyles they’d adopted and manufactured for themselves.

Thought for the day 🤔

“The point is that the rich have everything they want , yet significant numbers are miserable because their needs are not met. The key is not how rich you are, but how virus-ridden are your values”

When travelling to less developed parts of the world, this is often vividly apparent via the cheerfulness and generosity of people who seem to have very little material or financial wealth.

Verdict on the book

Yes, it’s a pretty lengthy book but not quite the bland text book style you’d expect.  You can dip in and out. The themes are clear, with little interview snippets. The book seems good at snatching you back from the rat race and making you look into a psychological mirror, an aid to detoxing the mind in some ways. It’s a keeper.

17 thoughts on “The other virus, Affluenza. Is society sick?

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  4. Kym Gordon Moore

    Oh that monster, that Godzilla Affluenza, will drive you into the wannabe craze of craziness. Love some of the quotes you mentioned from the book Cherryl: “A lot of people are just grinding their lives out,” “We pay a heavy price for that wispy thing called status….It can be the enemy of contentment,” and “The point is that the rich have everything they want , yet significant numbers are miserable because their needs are not met. The key is not how rich you are, but how virus-ridden are your values.”

    I have seen the destruction of what “status-seeking” does and how it truly has become a full blown pandemic in the most vile and misleading ways. Great post! 😍 🥰 😘

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