More than ever, we have big houses and broken homes, high incomes and low morale, secured rights and diminished civility. We excel at making a living but often fail at making a life. We celebrate our prosperity but yearn for purpose. We cherish our freedoms but long for connection. In an age of plenty, we feel spiritual hunger.
– David Meyer
People don’t need enormous cars, they need respect. They don’t need closets full of clothes, they need to feel attractive and they need excitement and variety and beauty. People don’t need electronic equipment; they need something worthwhile to do with their lives. People need identity, community, challenge, acknowledgement, love, and joy. To try to fill these needs with material things is to set up an unquenchable appetite for false solutions to real and never-satisfied problems. The resulting psychological emptiness is one of the major forces behind the desire for material growth.
– Donella Meadows
There are so many good quotes on Affluenza that I could fill an entire post with them; but I’ve constrained myself to two. ¬†If you’re anything like I was a week ago, you have no idea what Affluenza is– sort of. ¬†Most likely you’re familiar with the phenomenon but not with the terminology. ¬†Allow me to enlighten you.
Affluenza is a mix of the word ‘Affluent’ and ‘Influenza’ and refers to being affluent as a kind of disease, like Influenza. ¬†Proponents of Affluenza believe that as a person’s material¬†possessions¬†and worth grow, they become more dissatisfied and actually experience a decrease in quality of life rather than an increase. ¬†The reason for this being that as a person’s wealth grows and they become able to afford the more luxurious things in life, their life slowly loses meaning.
You would think that it’s the opposite– but when you think about it Affluenza makes a lot of sense. ¬†Most people are after the ‘dream life’. ¬†As Americans coined it, ‘The American Dream’. ¬†Fame, fortune, a beautiful and wonderful spouse; luxury at its finest. ¬†People spend their entire lives working toward this goal. ¬†Some reach it, others never come close but almost everyone pursues it in one form or another. ¬†We go to school to learn how to work, and we work so that we can earn money. ¬†Going to school and working comprise almost 75% of most people’s entire lifetimes. ¬†Meaning that most of Average Joe’s time is going to be spent pursuing affluence.
If you’ve ever beaten a video game, you may know where this is going. ¬†What happens when you beat the game? ¬†Normally you feel a sense of satisfaction for having overcome all the obstacles on your path to victory; but if the game allows you to continue playing after you’ve won, most people will play for at maximum another hour before turning the game off, putting on a shelf and never playing it again, unless they start a new game.
Why? ¬†Because it’s boring when you win. ¬†As human beings it’s our nature to pursue goals in a never-ending cycle. ¬†Once a single goal has been met, we immediately move on to the next goal. ¬†As a species that drive has helped us achieve the dominant role on this planet and it has been responsible for every technological advancement ever made. ¬†Unfortunately, when we’re talking about happiness, this drive can be a problem.
Bringing the video game analogy back to reality, you can think of reality as a video game. ¬†One in which the end-goal is to earn so much money that you never have to work or even worry about not having enough money for anything ever again. ¬†That’s a lofty goal that can take years– even generations –for a family to reach. ¬†So what happens when you achieve that goal? ¬†You get bored.
Boredom usually leads to unhappiness if left unattended. ¬†Boredom is the reason you see people like Jay Leno have a warehouse full of cars that cost five times the price of your 25-year mortgage. ¬†He even has an entire website devoted to it: Jay Leno’s Garage. ¬†There’s nothing wrong with that, but it illustrates my point rather¬†eloquently: ¬†When you have nothing else to work for, you create a website devoted to your ridiculously expensive hobby of collecting cars.
What this means for the rich
What this means for the rich is that they need to find a life purpose other than making money. ¬†That can be very difficult to do since, as I mentioned earlier, we as a society train people to have a life goal of making money, as it’s the only way they can survive. ¬†When you have so much money you never have to worry about not having it again, you need to move on and find something else to do with your time.
It’s easier than you think, but you need to really focus on your own desires which can be difficult to do when you have zero practice listening to your own needs. ¬†(Which applies to most of us.) ¬†You need to start exploring different hobbies that interest you and find out which ones you really like. ¬†Often a good goal while doing exploring these things is finding out what you can do that you enjoy but that also brings the most good to other people’s lives simultaneously. ¬†Achieving world happiness is, sadly, a goal you will probably never complete, but that consequently makes it ideal. ¬†You can help millions of people every year and there will always be another million for you to help. ¬†Will Smith achieves this by blending what he loves(Acting.) with helping people. (Acting in big-name movies like The Pursuit of Happiness and Seven Pounds which have strong¬†philosophical¬†messages.)
What this means for everyone else
What this means for everyone else is that they probably don’t need to worry about Affluenza right now, and may not within their lifetime, but that it is always¬†better to nip it in the bud rather than wait for it to bloom. ¬†Even if you don’t think you’ll ever have affluence to the level that you’ll never need to worry about money again, your life can substantially improve by moving away from chasing wealth and focusing on the things you really love in life.
As I said above, unless you’re well practiced in discovering what you love, you may have trouble moving away from the rat race as a life goal to something else. ¬†Try things out, and stick to the ones that you love. ¬†Make them, and the people in your life, your priority instead of your job or money. ¬†Both money and your job are important, but you’ll find that when they are not the driving force behind your life that you become a much happier individual, as do those closest to you.
Affluenza does affect those without money. ¬†Take for instance, Bob.
Bob always wanted an Acura RSX. ¬†He worked hard for five years and finally saved up the money to buy it. ¬†Satisfied with his purchase, he drove his Acura lovingly around for six months before something else caught his eye: A Mustang GT. ¬†He wanted that Mustang GT, but it was much more expensive than his current income could afford. ¬†So, Bob worked really hard for eight more years and eventually bought the Mustang GT. ¬†He drove his Mustang around for a year before he spotted a BMW. ¬†That BMW was so much nicer than his Mustang GT. ¬†It had heated seats, GPS, backup camera, plus it was much faster! ¬†He had to have it. ¬†Twelve years and countless laboured hours later, he was able to afford it. ¬†Then one day he saw a¬†Lamborghini…
And it goes on and on. ¬†Most of us do this not just with cars, but with everything. ¬†The moment you get whatever you want, as is human nature, you almost immediately focus on the next best thing. ¬†One minute you’re dying for that 700 sq. ft. apartment with the beautiful view and the next you’re upset that you only have a 3000 sq. ft. house without a heated garage.
When you remove the focus on things and start focusing on ideas, activities and other goals that need for the latest and greatest drops away, and you start to realize that things aren’t that important in your life: ¬†People and happiness are.
Do yourself a favour and forget that new iPhone. ¬†Find something you love and connect with the people around you that love you. ¬†Affluenza affects us all in some respect, and it’s spreading. ¬†At least now you know that there’s a cure.