We value and love things more than people.
We covet possessions. We are stressed working to purchase things we really don’t need. Self-centered behaviors are more prevalent than altruistic ones. We have little moral energy to spend on others; we are less attuned to the well-being of others.
Workers are in a cycle of work and spend -- the more you work, the more you spend. Think of a hamster or rodent exercise wheel.
We believe our self-worth is defined by
• our job title and our income bracket
• possessions that are socially visible—our clothes (often with visible brand names), our homes and our vehicles.
Our quality of life decreases.
We’re in a national orgy of overspending and living beyond our means. Call it compulsive buying, competitive spending, an addiction to consumption, conspicuous consumption. We compare our lifestyle and possessions to that of others. We emulate the upscale lifestyle of the most affluent. We often put up with outrageously bad behavior by financially successful people. We discard possessions at a record rate. We are drowning in the amount of stuff we own.
We don’t compete on the invisible: savings, giving to charities and working for the public good. We are the opposite: we’re in debt. The Commerce Department reported on Feb. 1 that for the second straight year Americans spent more than they made. The only time personal savings has been lower was in 1933 during the Great Depression.
Researchers, writers and advocates at the forefront
Juliet Schor is a professor of sociology at Boston College and was previously at Harvard University. The points of her book ‘The Overspent American: Upscaling, Downshifting, and the New Consumer’ (1998 hard cover title) and the 1999 paperback version‘The Overspent American: Why We Want What We Don't Need’ are now on a DVD with the latter title.
Barb Wollan, ISU Extension Family Resource Management Specialist in central Iowa, and Holle Smith, County Extension Education Director in Emmet County, led a workshop on The Overspent American at 2007 Professional Development Day March 15. (See http://www.mediaed.org/videos/CommercialismPoliticsAndMedia/OverspentAmerican for a summary of the D VD and a link to the trailer on YouTube.) Contact any ISU Extension resource management field specialist (http://www.extension.iastate.edu/homefamily/families_staff.htm) to inquire about the film and presentations.
John de Graaf, activist filmmaker, produced PBS documentaries Affluenza (1996) and Escape from Affluenza (1998). He teamed with David Wann, a former EPA staffer and expert on sustainable lifestyles, and Thomas Naylor, professor emeritus in economics at Duke University, to write ‘Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic’ (2001). They define "affluenza" as "a painful, contagious, socially-transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more". They examine the spiraling cycle of overconsumption, spending, stress and broken relationships caused by obsession with uncontrolled economic growth at any cost.
The Amazon.com review says, “It's a powerful virus running rampant in our society, infecting our souls, affecting our wallets and financial well-being, and threatening to destroy not only the environment but also our families and communities.”
Schor is co-founder of the Center for a New American Dream, http://www.newdream.org/ which offers resources to make it easier to live consciously, buy wisely and join others in the same pursuit. Mission statement: The Center for a New American Dream helps Americans consume responsibly to protect the environment, enhance quality of life, and promote social justice.
At the end of our days, what will we have?
Savings and value in real estate will help pay our bills.
Memories of trips, of friends, of family, of the work we’ve done will sustain us.
We can be content in what we’ve given away.
The clothes, the vehicles, the furnishings will probably be of little value or have already been disposed of.
Will we be able to say our love was active, that we loved others, individually and collectively more than we loved possessions?
I look forward to the day a new college coach or high-ranking university official says, “I want to renegotiate my salary; I don’t need or want this much money.” Or that person says, “I am giving away half my salary every year This year I’m donating to ….”
I salute those people whom one would never guess their wealth but leave lots to the local library or some other endeavor, those who when you see their name plackets in buildings, you say, “I had no idea they had that amount of money to contribute.”
“We are the hollow men / We are the stuffed men,"
T.S. Eliot, American-born poet, dramatist and literary critic (1888-1965)
Do you have affluenza? 15 true/false questions
Tips for beating affluence
Excellent article, well-documented
Sustainable Living Strategies for Breaking the Cycle of Work and Spend
by Viviane Simon-Brown, Oregon State University Extension Specialist
Books for more reading