Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Do you have 'Affluenza'?

Oliver James sounds like a very sane man even though he is a psychologist. He has just published a book, and written about it in the Telegraph, on a terrible affliction of the affluent world; 'affluenza'.

I am always encouraged when I read articles such as these, because I realise that my contented state of being - living in my little house, pushing paper for a job which provides me with enough to pay for my little house and leave me time for the boys, and not worrying about the acquisition of pointless goods, ie, counting my blessings - is actually a sign of emotional maturity and not appalling lack of ambition.

You may think that the pursuit of money for its own sake is not a sign of emotional immaturity, but in fact,
It results in an obsessive, envious keeping-up-with-the-Joneses state of mind that increases our vulnerability to emotional disorders, and is responsible for rising levels of depression, addiction, violence and anxiety in the developed world.
...its symptoms are characterised by the placing of a high value on money, possessions, appearances (physical and social) and fame.
He lists the following questions to enable readers to assess their level of infection (and my responses):

Do you agree with any of the following statements?

- I would like to be a very wealthy person. Nah, unless it landed in my lap and I couldn't avoid it. Otherwise there's no way I'm going in pursuit of wealth just for the sake of it.
- I want luxury in my life. Define luxury.
- I often compare what I own with what others own. No. Occasionally I might, but certainly not 'often'.
- Shopping or thinking about what to buy preoccupies me greatly. Good grief, no.
- I'm less concerned with what work I do than what I get for it. In the context of having enough to do what I want. Pushing paper is hardly a challenging occupation.
- I admire people who own expensive homes, cars and clothes. No, they have to be admirable people first.
- My life would be better if I owned certain things that I don't have now. Um, I suppose I wouldn't mind a cleaning lady, but I wouldn't own her...
- The things I own are an indication of how well I'm doing. If you define 'well' as financial success then yes, I suppose so. If you define it as 'personal well-being', then no.
- I like to keep up with fashions in hair and clothing. Nah, too much effort.
- I would like to hide signs of ageing. I haven't got to a critical level yet, so I don't know.
- I would like to have people comment on how attractive I look. They do, actually. I have lovely friends.
- Possessions can be just as important as people. No, although come to think of it, it depends on the thing and depends on the person... Some things can hold great personal worth because of their associations and history. Some people I wouldn't give a shit what happened to them.
- If a friend isn't of use to me, personally or professionally, I usually end the friendship. No.
- I would like my name to be known by many people. It is, thanks to my blog.
- I would like to be admired by many people. I'd like my book, if published, to be admired. I'd bathe in its reflected glory...
- I would like my name to appear frequently in the media. Alongside those such as Paris Hilton? No thanks!


If you answered "yes" to any of the questions above, then you have, like most people in the English-speaking world, contracted the virus. The more you answered "yes", the more infected you are and the greater your likelihood of becoming emotionally distressed.

So I have the odd symptom. How did you do?

The study was not carried out in France and I'd be interested to know how the French would compare with others. The countries involved were : New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Shanghai, Moscow, Copenhagen and New York. On a purely ad hoc personal impression, I would think the level of infection with 'affluenza' would be lower in France. I'm not saying that the French are free of it, but I think they still define themselves through earnings, possessions, appearances and celebrity less than in English-speaking countries. For the moment.

It is one of the pleasures of living here that I am not surrounded by the highly infected or deeply embedded in the 'rat race'. Blessings indeed!


  1. Interesting article, Sarah.
    I agree with you about the French because they have a wealth tax so according to my neighbours at any rate, they have to be fairly disceet with their money.
    All the big houses round here are owned by foreigners Brits and Dutch usually and most of the flashy cars are driven by Brits and Germans.
    I too am relieved that I'm not actually lazy and it's normal not to care about the ephemera.

  2. Have you seen the film 'Signes Exterieurs de Richesse'? It went a long way to explaining to me why affluent doctors drove around in cruddy Renault Clios.

    Mind you, there are plenty of affluent French around me with lovely houses filled with lovely things. We even have a local Hummer which is about as indiscreet as it gets. I expect it's a professional vehicle...

  3. Which just goes to prove what they say. France is the only successful communist country.

  4. Hmm...I think I must have been vaccinated against affluenza when I was a and possessions have never interested me. I think it must be due to my total lack of ambition and the fact that I live inside my head - I've got all I need in there!

  5. was very pleased to read the article and after answering all the question, finding that I had not caught the virus either! Surprising, for I am a hybrid, always more fragile than 100% animals.

    Wrinkles - the story of your life, worn down bermudas and caps having seen better days are so comfortable, sneakers too! Expensive clothes, cars and habits make you worry all day that they may be spoiled, bumped, torn or get a used look about them....

    Actually it is tru that we froggies don't like showing it off either...very bad taste. Stricly for showbiz and Paris Hilton people.

    Actually keeping up with the Jonses - is being the Jones who others would like to keep up with, I think! No interest at all.

    Also, it's a bit like "Gini" - no point in trying to be it if your are not....because if you really shows without making a fuss. Affluenza must be a very unhappy illness to contract.


  6. ps: dear anonymous - the comment about the French and France being the only civilised communist country in Europe was flung at me during a dinner party by a fat American Banker - who told me that, and said we were the only people who let any one in to our frontiers, and shared our loot with all willy nilly whether they worked or not! And our social security too.


  7. Affluenza sounds like a typical anglo saxon thing. It is someone stating the obvious about the appalling way in which these people live. Spending your whole day slaving away to keep ahead of Mrs Jones. Going to cocktail parties where you endlessly talk about, property, private schools, vacations in the sun, bonuses and other snob subjects of the day. Everybody seeking to show off and make useful contacts.Which happens not to be a retired sweeper. There is some of that in France but thank goodness it is not the be all and end all of the country.
    Vivons heureux, vivons caché. I don't show off my gold plated broom.


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