Book Review: Affluenza - The All-Consuming Epidemic by John de Graaf

A scene at the doctor’s office; a well-clad lady has just walked in looking frazzled. “There is nothing physically wrong with you,” says the doctor. His patient is unconvinced.

“Then why do I feel so awful?” she asks. “So bloated and sluggish. I’ve got a big new house, a brand-new car, a new wardrobe. And I just got a big raise at work. Why am I so miserable, doctor?”Isn’t there some pill you can give me?

The doctor shakes his head. “I am afraid not,” he replies. “There’s no pill for what’s wrong with you.”

“What is it, doctor?” she asks alarmed. “Affluenza,” he answers gravely. “It’s a new epidemic. It’s extremely contagious. It can be cured, but not easily.”

The scene above is the introduction to the book titled: Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic written by three authors:- John De Graaf, David Wann and Thomas H. Naylor.

The 42-page book evolved from a documentary titled Affluenza that focused on the habits of Americans – buying, having and wasting too much– and it first aired on September 15, 1997. As I went through the book, I could identify with the issues highlighted and sadly the Affluenza epidemic is also in Kenya.

Socially transmitted condition

In case you are wondering, Affluenza is a real word! The Oxford English Dictionary defines Affluenza as, “a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more.” If you can identify with the symptoms of spending money to fuel an insatiable appetite by buying things you can comfortably live without, then you could be suffering from Affluenza.

We all have things lying around at home, in the office or in the car that we don’t use – gadgets, clothes, shoes, cars, toys, kitchen appliances etc. For women, it could be a fancy dress you bought on credit for a wedding three years ago and only wore it once. Or that gorgeous pair of red six-inch killer heels from a designer store that you have only worn twice because the shoes literally killed your toes. Most of these things end up being waste and pollute the environment. I remember growing up and my mother would keep the best cutlery to be used for special guests and on special occasions. We were never allowed to use her China or silver wear that was kept under lock and key in the living room. I know many other families who were like that. Back in the day, it was a fad to impress your guests with expensive cutlery.

Frugal lifestyle

Fortunately, there is a cure for Affluenza – living a frugal lifestyle. It requires us to be prudent or economical in the use of consumable resources such as food, time or money, and avoiding waste, lavishness or extravagance – says the Oxford English Dictionary. The working word here is prudent. There is a popular quote that says we spend money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t know or who don’t care. Being frugal in how you spend your money does not mean you are selfish, it means you make conscious decisions in the way you spend your money and that the things you buy add real value to your life. Take communication technology for example – computers, cell phones, e-mail, digital cameras etc they are meant to make life easier and give us extra time to rest but in retrospect, we now have less free time than we did 30 years ago.

The book Affluenza offers various treatment options that tell us how we can be frugal in the way we spend our money. It highlights several things you can do to have a better perspective on how you spend your money. Two things in the book stood out for me. First, we must make peace with our past; you can do this by calculating how much money you have earned in your life and then determine what you have to show for it. The amount of money you have squandered on useless things will give you a wakeup call. Second is part of the budget-making process, it involves tabulating all your income that you spend in a month and keeping track of every cent that you earn and spend.

Buying things may sound fun but before you buy something ask yourself four questions: Do you really need it? Can you borrow it from someone else? Are the materials in it reusable or recyclable? How much time will you need to work to afford it? As you start the journey of frugality, here is a quote form an anonymous source to ponder over; If you think your actions are too small to make a difference, you have never been in bed with a mosquito.

You can get yourself a copy PDF copy here