Affluenza: Fact-Heavy Book Carries a Lightweight Message

Affluenza, as it is defined by the authors, is “a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more.”

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by Nicole Chilton | 2008-04-02 01:00:00-06

Book review: Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic, Second Edition by John De Graaf, David Wann and Thomas H. Naylor

In a world already filled with so much stuff, there seems to be an ever increasing push to obtain the bigger and the better. Americans consume more fuel, food and products than any other country in the world, but are also plagued with stress-related illness, depression and overall poor health. For a country that seems so rich, why are we so poor? With the speed at which lightweight living is progressing, it is natural to look for a reason for such enthusiasm and ask what may be driving some people to take their lightweight backpacking skills and apply them to their lives. According to authors John De Graaf, David Wann, and Thomas H. Naylor, the probable reason is also the name of their book, Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic .

Affluenza, as it is defined by the authors, is “a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more.” This condition is categorized by numerous symptoms, both emotional and physical, but the most powerful and lasting symptom, according to the authors, is the lack of purpose and joy in people’s lives. Americans buy and buy and buy and never quite seem to reach that feeling of contentment. In fact, they tend to feel terrible, weighed down by the excess existing in their lives. The book cites numerous examples of people who have realized that the accumulation of things, such as power and wealth, have only made them miserable and discontent. They only find happiness when they lighten up their lives and rid themselves of that which “you can’t take with you when you go.”

The book, which at times feels like an overwhelming experience in and of itself, jumps from one topic to the next, chronicling and calculating the expanding way of life in America, and how it is making people sick. The motivations for buying too much, the current family system, analysis of the social structure and even an Affluenza Self-Diagnosis Test are included in the text. Provided with an almost intrusive collection of facts and statistics, the authors morbidly cover and deconstruct the crucial error in the fabric of the American culture: we simply carry too much.

The information, regardless of how overwhelming the book may seem at times, is of extreme importance and value, especially to Americans today. Going lighter (although those exact words are not used in the book) is the message. To seek out, appreciate, and foster that which cannot be purchased is provided as a method for a better life, though the authors achieve this by stuffing the book full of facts, figures and shock-value anecdotes. It is supersized, if you will. In the end, the book is still able to provide something to the public that seems elusive in this era: perspective. In two hundred forty-seven jolting pages (and that is before the forty-one pages of notes, a bibliography, sources and a complete index) it manages to cut through the never-ending onslaught and spin of advertising, finally presenting to the consumer the world as it is, not as it is marketed.


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"Affluenza: Fact-Heavy Book Carries a Lightweight Message," by Nicole Chilton. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/affluenza_book_review.html, 2008-04-02 01:00:00-06.

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Forum Index » Editor's Roundtable » Affluenza: Fact-Heavy Book Carries a Lightweight Message


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Ryan Jordan
(ryan) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
Affluenza: Fact-Heavy Book Carries a Lightweight Message on 04/01/2008 21:51:34 MDT Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Affluenza: Fact-Heavy Book Carries a Lightweight Message

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Advanced TMS on 04/01/2008 22:50:24 MDT Print View

TMS= Too Much ummm STUFF.

I've seen it in so many ways. My wife and I were talking about the mortgage crisis and home much homes have gone up. We grew up in the 1960's and I remember by parents buying a 1200 square-foot-per-floor split level tract house for $19,000 in 1966. That was a four bedroom two, bath house (after we finished the basement).

I live in the city rather than the suburbs now, and many of the houses around me were built in the late 1940's, to take advantage of the housing opportunities provided by the GI Bill for WWII veterans. Most of those houses were quite small by today's standards--- 850 or 900 square feet on the main floor, 2 bedrooms and one bath. A big one might be 3 bedrooms and 1 and 1/2 bath. The kitchen, dining room, living room, etc were all smaller too. Those houses were built with 60amp electrical services too-- the minimum today is 200 amps and 400 amps is not at all unusual. Electric dryers tipped the scale to be sure, but when you look at those post-war houses, they have very few outlets-- it wasn't a priority.

I think that is a good paradigm for the changes in the last half of the 20th Century in the US. We have more cars, several televisions, a couple computers, microwaves, yadda, yadda, yadda.

Our cars are a good example of the same. My first car was a 1961 Chevrolet Impala. 283 V-8, 2 speed automatic transmission, manual windows, AM radio-- pushbutton tuning was a big deal, no air conditioning. It did have power steering. It was $300 in 1971 with about 50,000 miles on it and it had a fresh set of Sears radials-- quite a new type of tire then.

Years ago I started a thread on my BBS about simple living and being able to get by with the basics. I came up with the idea of giving everyone a box that was a one meter cube and all your personal possessions had to go in that box. The other forum members said it was impossible. I don't think so and I'm working towards it-- cleaning out my closets and paring down my "stuff." I'm going to get a washing machine box and start there.

There is a photo of the total worldly possessions of Mohandas Gandhi when he died.



It says it all: one of the most respected men on the planet and he left behind a couple pairs of sandals, a book, his glasses, a couple bowls, a cotton spinner, and three ceramic monkeys.

I've run through this exercise several times over the years and it is exactly like making an ultralight gear list. You are getting down the the essentials for sustaining yourself. It is very enlightening to sit down and say, "how many pairs of socks do I need?"

There are many books and Web sites on the concept. Search on "simple living".

I think I've brought it up here before. You might think this is anti-materialism, but I call it hyper-materialism, particularly when we talk abut ultralight hiking. Performance with light weight is the issue. We want only the essentials, and those must be the best in terms of weight and performance-- keeping the heat in, the rain and hot sun out, covering as many uses as possible and so on. We can take the same principles to everyday life in picking transportation, communication gear, entertainment, and so on.

Edited by dwambaugh on 04/01/2008 23:03:07 MDT.

Pamela Wyant
(RiverRunner) - F - M
These days on 04/02/2008 02:28:58 MDT Print View

I find myself wanting to cut back on the stuff I own too. I thought it was my age, but maybe it is just the modern world that overwhelms us from every corner. The mail we get is horrendous, important (need to save) paperwork overflows file cabinets, inboxes are full of e-mail. And that doesn't include anything we purchase!

I have found myself purchasing less and less stuff, especially this last year.

Well, that is EXCEPT backpacking stuff.
Truth be told, I have also cut back on that, because I've finally come to the point I only purchase the good stuff that I really want. I've come to the point I can bring myself to pay $60 for the good wool shirt I want instead of buying 4 synthetics that I'm not really satisfied with for $15 each because they are cheap. I'll get a ton more wear out of that one good wool shirt than all four of the others, and it takes up less space!

Come to think of it, maybe that is part of the reason many of us are always buying stuff - we don't buy what we really want because there is always something cheaper that semi-fills the need. Then, since we aren't totally satisfied, we buy again, and again...

Pam

Brian UL
(MAYNARD76)

Locale: New England
Re: Advanced TMS on 04/02/2008 07:53:20 MDT Print View

21) He who understands the limits of life knows that things which remove pain arising from need are easy to obtain, and furnish a complete and optimal life. Thus he no longer needs things that are troublesome to attain.
15) Natural wealth is both limited and easily obtained, but vanity is insatiable.

- Epicurus (331-270 B.C.)

from the Principal Doctrines
http://www.epicurus.info/etexts/PD.html
one of my all time favorites!

Joshua Mitchell
(jdmitch) - F

Locale: Kansas
Re: These days on 04/02/2008 08:26:36 MDT Print View

"Come to think of it, maybe that is part of the reason many of us are always buying stuff - we don't buy what we really want because there is always something cheaper that semi-fills the need. Then, since we aren't totally satisfied, we buy again, and again..."

I've seen similar comments on many 'simplify your life' articles. I tend to agree, by attempting to save money we actually spend more. Frugality / Simplicity =/= Cheap Living. It's about a mindset not about buying the cheapest possible.

Anyhow, this sounds like a very interesting book. It's going on my toread list, and I'll probably have my wife read it after I do.

Kevin Shannon
(kmshannon) - F
Money is the root on 04/02/2008 08:40:15 MDT Print View

If you truly want to simplify your life, you first must get rid of your money. How many people out there remember what their life was like as a poor college student? I do, and I miss that simplicity.

Steve .
(pappekak) - F

Locale: Tralfamadore
Re: Money is the root on 04/02/2008 08:52:36 MDT Print View

If you truly want to simplify your life, you first must get rid of your money. How many people out there remember what their life was like as a poor college student? I do, and I miss that simplicity.

For any of you that want to get rid of your money keep me in mind. If you are serious PM me and I'll send you my mailing address - personal checks and cash welcome :?)

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Money is the root on 04/02/2008 09:29:16 MDT Print View

Kevin wrote: "If you truly want to simplify your life, you first must get rid of your money. How many people out there remember what their life was like as a poor college student? I do, and I miss that simplicity."

The simple part was good, but I was really poor and that sucked. Eating well was a challenge and no medical/dental insurance was a BAD thing. I do remember being able to move in less than one pickup load and that was great. Now I've been living in the same house for 21 years and it's getting scary. Time for a garage sale!

As some others mentioned simple is not equal to cheap. Being too poor to buy cheap is a concept that many poor people have grasped.

Thoreau's chapter Economy in his book Walden says it all and he saw this all coming in what-- 1847? You can download it at Gutenberg Press in text format for free. Thoreau was an early ultralighter :)

Edited by dwambaugh on 04/02/2008 09:34:25 MDT.

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: Money is the root on 04/02/2008 09:29:20 MDT Print View

"How many people out there remember what their life was like as a poor college student? I do, and I miss that simplicity."

I don't miss it one bit. Yeah, I lived in a nasty old apartment in an old moldy damp Victorian house. I worked for minimum wage. I ate a horrid diet - I was to poor to afford good food. I had no health insurance or even a Dr. The E room was where you went when you got sick in winter. One winter we turned off the frig becuase we had no heat and the house was colder than the frig. I'd fall asleep in college classes that winter becuase it was warm. I slept in a sleeping bag on foam mattress - I had given my bed to a friend who had gotten pregnant and felt she needed it.

Yeah, I don't think so. Simplicity can be sooooo overrated.

Thom Darrah
(thomdarrah) - MLife

Locale: Southern Oregon
RE; "money is the root..." on 04/02/2008 09:46:02 MDT Print View

My father passed away not long ago after living a life based on the principal that "he who dies with the most toys wins". He left behind five Harley Davidsons, a couple Honda Gold Wings, a Corvette and other toys to numerous to list. He had fun, died relatively young (by todays standards) and left all of his toys behind.

Any BPL member that had an opportunity to look at my gear closet would surely say "like father like son".

Maybe I need a GAA group, Gear Affluenza Anonymous, but in place of the standard twelve step program I would want to yo-yo the process and make it twenty four steps. More is always better right?

I remember an argument I had with my father when I was younger. I recall arguing that I would rather be poor and happy than rich and unhappy. His reply was he'd rather be rich and unhappy than poor and unhappy.

Edited by thomdarrah on 04/02/2008 10:04:01 MDT.

George Matthews
(gmatthews) - MLife
affluenza book - yet another item to buy on 04/02/2008 10:49:27 MDT Print View

While in the wilderness at night, I do my best reflecting on my excesses when I'm cozy in my cocoon pajamas under my luxurious quilt under my silnylon roof propped up by carbon fiber sticks secured by titanium stakes. Then rising with the glorious sun, I am one with nature burning twigs in my bushbuddy to boil water in my titanium pot. Ah, the light, "simple" life is good.

Based on the book review, the ugly Americans just won't stop acting like humans. Imagine if countries like India and China acted like humans. Or maybe they do. No wonder oil ain't cheap no more not to mention food prices, etc. The real problem, in my opinion, is more than an American issue, it is global. The real problem is not about simplification, it is about understanding sustainability. Like the mortgage melt down, so will become all unsustainable human behavior. A new book on an old subject only adds to the number of books. I will follow the idea of the book from the review: I will not buy it, and instead I will stick with Thoreau's Walden paperless free download from Project Gutenberg...

"When I wrote the following pages, or rather the bulk of them, I lived alone, in the woods, a mile from any neighbor, in a house which I had built myself, on the shore of Walden Pond, in Concord, Massachusetts, and earned my living by the labor of my hands only. I lived there two years and two months. At present I am a sojourner in civilized life again."

I'm not an anti-simple-life person, but know that what humans really need to do won't be done because we're humans. It's just the way we are. I for one will enjoy as much as I can while it lasts, but also will do what I can to live simplier and lighter.

Nia Schmald
(nschmald) - MLife
Re: Affluenza: Fact-Heavy Book Carries a Lightweight Message on 04/02/2008 11:09:15 MDT Print View

Well there has been quite a response to this article but I have to wonder why is Backpackinglight doing book and web reviews that have nothing to do with backpacking or even directly with being outdoors.

Just because the reviewer found a way to use the term "go lighter" does not IMO make this a suitable topic for BPL. If someone was to post this review in the forums it would belong in Chaff as its not on topic.

Don't get me wrong. I think this is a fine topic of discussion. I just don't see why I'm paying BPL for this.

Edited by nschmald on 04/02/2008 11:12:35 MDT.

Matthew Robinson
(mcjhrobinson) - F

Locale: Waaay West
re: affluenza on 04/02/2008 11:31:25 MDT Print View

this book looks like a real good read, id really like to read some of the facts.

ive been going light after college. i loved computers (still do but not fanatic) and really wanted to get into network security. a job which would require me to be indoors. i ended up dropping out of my college after having TOO much fun. looking back it might have been bad for the body but good for the soul. i got a job doing yard maint. and found a deep appreciation for plants, which bloomed into a love for the outdoors. ive been doing some sort of landscape work ever since.

in contrast my girlfriend was going to school to be an xray tech, she graduated and hated all her jobs and would come home miserable while id be chipper as ever. i dont think i could ever work indoors for too long (unless i worked in a gear shop!).

ive always been a firm believer that with money doesnt always come happiness. ive never owned furniture, ive owned a car once but gave it away because it was too expensive. im trying to sit here and pinpoint exactly what makes me not need things but its hard to do. i suppose mostly its because i never had enough money to buy lots of things and gradually adjusted to it. when your monthly income is 1600/mo and rent+bills+food = 1400/mo you really dont have money to go buying any old thing and learn to appreciate what you do have.

currently my girlfriend and i are driving across the country and back, then to alaska. our house is a honda element (hers/ours?). ive had to cut down ALL my clothes and stuff to the bare minimum, and so has she. all i have now is my gear and my guitar. this is probably the least amount of stuff ive ever had and im still chipper as ever.

i guess i dont really have a point but i thought id share my thoughts/experiences.

also, a sweedish friend of mine said he had to spend 2 weeks in the wilderness as part of his military training that he said all sweedish men must go through (i havent done any research). but anyways he said it opened his eyes to a world with less stuff. aloha!

Greg Vaillancourt
(GSV45) - F

Locale: Utah
I can think of one "thing" I'll dump soon enough on 04/02/2008 14:33:26 MDT Print View

My subscription to this website when it expires.

Sven Klingemann
(svenklingemann) - F
Re: I can think of one "thing" I'll dump soon enough on 04/02/2008 14:37:38 MDT Print View

I thought that you had just renewed based on a great article??
I guess one can't have it all ...

Darin Banner
(dbanner) - MLife

Locale: Pacific North West
Re: I can think of one "thing" I'll dump soon enough on 04/02/2008 15:03:09 MDT Print View

I'm curious; what about this article has you so upset?

Peter Fogel
(pgfogel) - F

Locale: Western Slope, Colorado
affluenza on 04/02/2008 15:33:34 MDT Print View

This is truly a universal principal. It applies equally as well to one's backpack as it does to one's life experiences. I find it to be a most appropriate topic here. Do not become discouraged by the comments of any individual. Remember: One man's junk may very well be another man's treasure. We each find our own way through Life. Take only as little as you need and leave the rest for others that may follow.

Peter

Russell Swanson
(rswanson) - F

Locale: Midatlantic
Re: Re: Affluenza: Fact-Heavy Book Carries a Lightweight Message on 04/02/2008 16:11:25 MDT Print View

Quoting Nia:
"Well there has been quite a response to this article but I have to wonder why is Backpackinglight doing book and web reviews that have nothing to do with backpacking or even directly with being outdoors."

I, for one, asked for more of this type of content...how the principals of lightweight hiking might apply to other areas of life in general. I'm sure I wasn't the only one or this article wouldn't be here. So you might as well blame me. I'm glad this website is moving in some small way towards more of a whole concept as opposed to strictly an 'online toolbox' for backpackers.

Personally, I'd try to look at it as a bonus. Or, maybe an expansion of a concept beyond the presentation to which you are normally accustomed to receiving those messages. I think these ideas (that are discussed in Affluenza) are as much about hope and enlightenment that do require positive thinking to realize them.

Besides, how many articles can you read about alcohol stoves or the water permeability of eVent fabric? Isn't there room for anything else?

Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: Affluenza: Fact-Heavy Book Carries a Lightweight Message on 04/02/2008 16:48:38 MDT Print View

And I thank Ryan for 1) starting the thread, and 2) starting it in Editors Roundtable.

When I come into BPL I typically hit "Last 50 Posts" to see what's up, or by going directly to a Gear Forum I can skip the Chaff, Philosophy, and non-gear discussions.

Suggestion:

I find that BPL forums are head and shoulder above the rest in terms quality and content, and most importantly, is populated with a courteous and informed membership willing to help each other.

My experience here is less than 6 months. But during that time I have noticed two glaring issues. First, threading is non-existent. Second, there appears to be no active moderators maintaining the “rules of the road”.

When threads run amuck (as I am doing here) it results in wasted time and then general frustration. Until the threading issue is resolved, moderators could do a lot to keep us on the straight and narrow. When the subject digresses move it to Chaff or Philosophy. Once threading becomes real their workloads will diminish, but they still need to keep an eye on things. By stepping in, they remind us of the general rules of conduct as well as maintain some sense of order.

Edited by greg23 on 04/02/2008 16:53:48 MDT.

Nia Schmald
(nschmald) - MLife
Affluenza: Fact-Heavy Book Carries a Lightweight Message on 04/02/2008 17:08:12 MDT Print View

Qouting Russell:
"I'm glad this website is moving in some small way towards more of a whole concept as opposed to strictly an 'online toolbox' for backpackers."

When I pay for information I expect the source of that info to be in expert in the subject. The staff at BPL has the credentials to claim expertise in light weight backpacking.

The site had real value to me because the staff actually was out using and refining the information they wrote about.

I'm not aware of the BPL staff expertise in living the "whole concept". No offense intended here. I don't even no what the "whole thing" is. :)

But in the absence of expertise, the info provided in this review is no different than a random blog espousing their opinions. And there are numerous blogs which have reviewed the Affluenza book. So what is the BPL value add here?