When it comes to global living standards, Australian cities like Sydney and Melbourne regularly feature on the lists of best places to live. One would generally assume this to mean that the people who live here also have a better quality of life.
This book, however, argues that the materialistic and consumerist lifestyle many of us are living is making us sick. Although our houses are bigger, our families are smaller. We send our children off to the best schools, but work so much we hardly ever spend quality time with them.
Affluenza is defined on page 3 as:
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 cause by the dogged pursuit of the Australian dream
3. An unsustainable addiction to economic growth
p.6 As a society surrounded by affluence, we indulge in the illusion that we are deprived.
We fail to differentiate between what we want and what we actually need. On page 13, it explains that our actions are often driven by our desire for ‘self-completion’; i.e. the desire to bring our actual self closer in line to our ideal self, who we want to be. Marketers know all about this – that what we buy is often about giving ourselves an identity; for example, the purchase of luxury brands is not just about the goods, it is a way of making ourselves feel or look better in front of others.
p.19 In rich countries today, consumption consists of people spending money they don’t have to buy goods they don’t need to impress people they don’t like – anon
We spend most of our money on our houses, ourselves, our pets and our children. Most of us know about the experiment Ivan Pavlov did on dogs – advertisers actually do the same thing with modern advertising (p.41) by conditioning us to associate certain products with a certain image or value. Often, we are led to believe that certain products are better even though they may be identical to another cheaper product (however, I have to disagree with the author’s statement on p.42 that there is no difference in the taste between Coke and Pepsi!)
Politicians love to talk about the Aussie battler, and use words like struggling families, doing it tough, mortgage stress. The reality though is that those headliners, in many cases, are not the result of rising interest rates or falling incomes, but rather the result of luxury fever (p.135). People have set their sights on a level of comfort and luxury that they cannot afford which forces them to take on debt that they will struggle to repay.
The book describes three main groups within Australian society – downshifters, deferrers and gratifiers.
Downshifters are described on p.153 as ‘those who have made a conscious decision to accept a lower income and a lower level of consumption in order to pursue other life goals. They are motivated by a desire for more life balance’. Deferrers are those that delay their reward, focusing instead on working hard now to have a better life in the future. Gratifiers are those that cannot wait to have everything now, and who will worry about the consequences later.
p.176 Downshifters sacrifice money for time, deferrers sacrifice time for money, and gratifiers sacrifice money now for money later.
Overall, I found the book to be quite well written and though provoking. It explains the problem of affluenza well, and offers practical solutions. The key is for us to recognise which group (downshifters, deferrers or gratifiers) we are in, and decide if it is time for a change.