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.