Affluenza is a term used by critics of consumerism, a portmanteau of affluence and influenza. Sources define this term as follows:

affluenza, n. a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more. (de Graaf )

affluenza, n. 1. The bloated, sluggish and unfulfilled feeling that results from efforts to keep up with the Joneses. 2. An epidemic of stress, overwork, waste and indebtedness caused by the pursuit of the American Dream. 3. An unsustainable addiction to economic growth. (PBS )

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. The condition is considered particularly acute amongst those with inherited wealth, who are often said to experience guilt, lack of purpose and dissolute behavior, as well as obsession with holding on to the wealth (John Levy's Coping with Inherited Wealth - see ).

Critics of the term suggest that the term is a ghastly neologism, which relies upon a viral metaphor to describe an ill-defined social anxiety.

The Affluenza theory

British psychologist Oliver James asserts that there is a correlation between the increasing nature of affluenza and the resulting increase in material inequality: the more unequal a society, the greater the unhappiness of its citizens.. Referring to Vance Packard's thesis (The Hidden Persuaders) on the manipulative methods used by the advertising industry, James relates the stimulation of artificial needs to the rise in affluenza. To highlight the spread of affluenza in societies with varied levels of inequality, James interviewed people in several cities including Sydney, Singapore, Moscow, Shanghai, Copenhagen and New York.

James also believes that higher rates of mental disorders are the consequence of excessive wealth-seeking in consumerist nations. . He cites World Health Organization data that English-speaking nations have twice as much mental illness as mainland Europe: 23% vs 11.5% suffered in the twelve months ending . James defines affluenza as 'placing a high value on money, possessions, appearances (physical and social) and fame,' and this becomes the rationale behind the increasing mental illness in English-speaking societies. He explains the greater incidence of affluenza as the result of 'Selfish Capitalism,' the neo-conservative or Market Liberal political governance found in English-speaking nations as compared to the less selfish capitalism pursued in mainland Europe. James asserts that societies can remove the negative consumerist effects by pursuing real needs over perceived wants, and by defining themselves as having value independent of their material possessions.

Affluenza by country


Hamilton and Denniss' book poses the question, "If the economy has been doing so well, why are we not becoming happier?" (pvii). They argue that affluenza causes over-consumption, "luxury fever", consumer debt, overwork, waste, and harm to the environment. These pressures lead to "psychological disorders, alienation and distress" (p179), causing people to "self-medicate with mood-altering drugs and excessive alcohol consumption" (p180).

They note that a number of Australians have reacted by "downshifting" — they decided to "reduce their incomes and place family, friends and contentment above money in determining their life goals." Their critique leads them to identify the need for an "alternative political philosophy," and the book concludes with a "political manifesto for wellbeing" (see ).

United States

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.

The term affluenza was popularized in the United States by the 1997 documentary of the same name from KCTS and Seattle and Oregon Public Broadcasting. John de Graaf, producer of the documentary, also co-authored a book with the same title.

Affluenza in popular culture

Affluenza is mentioned in Chumbawamba's song Buy Nothing Day.

Radio talker Rush Limbaugh regularly runs a parody advertisement mocking the concept and suggesting that those "stricken with affluenza" can be cured by listening to his program.

Affluenza is also mentioned in the song "1 and 3", from the punk-rock band MxPx

"We're possessed, obsessed in turn we're more depressed we're doomed, consumed we gotta get that monkey off our backs affluenza, a-fflu-enza!"

See also


Further reading

  • The Circle of Simplicity, Cecile Andrews, ISBN 0-06-092872-7
  • The Golden Ghetto: The Psychology of Affluence, Jessie H. O'Neill, ISBN 978-0967855400
  • Voluntary Simplicity, Duane Elgin, ISBN 0-688-12119-5
  • Voluntary Simplicity, Daniel Doherty & Amitai Etzioni, ISBN 0-7425-2066-8
  • The Politics of Simple Living by Charles Siegel. Read online or download.

External links

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