How "AFFLUENZA" Undermines Our Personal, Cultural, and Ecological Well-Being

When I woke up today, the question that I was guided to ask on the pages of my eco-journal was this: “How does "affluenza" undermine our personal, cultural, and ecological well-being?"

Affluenza: A Collective Illness That's Rooted in Our Ego Desires

Have you heard of the term “Affluenza?” It sounds a bit like “influenza, right?” Well, like influenza, which is a real illness, Affluenza is also an illness. It’s an illness that is transmitted from person to person, and mind to mind, and it originates NOT from a live physical virus, but from the erroneous beliefs we share as a society, about what we need in our lives, in order to feel secure, happy, and successful. "Affluenza" is essentially the result of us catering to our “material wants” rather than catering to our authentic human needs.

Exploring The Difference Between Our Wants and Our True Needs

Our material wants, it should be said, are the luxuries that we crave and can’t seem to get enough of. Our true human needs come down to our need to be in a healthy and loving relationship with ourselves, others, and all life forms, and they include our need to serve. The problem with satisfying our material wants, rather than our authentic human needs, is that our satisfaction is only temporary. We might feel when we are accumulating material possessions, that we are gaining confidence. We might feel that we are bolstering our self-esteem. We might feel that we are reducing our anxiety about our ability to keep up with the Joneses. But in many instances, what we are really doing, is using our consumer habits and our purchasing power, to deal with uncomfortable hidden feelings that we have about ourselves, such as the feeling of being unworthy, inadequate, and unloved.

Now, if you’re saying to yourself, "Affluenza’ probably doesn't apply to me," I have a few questions I’d like to ask you.

*I’m on total overload with my job, and it’s affecting my health and sanity! I’m not eating right and I’m not sleeping well either.

* I dislike my job so much, but I keep working 50 hours a week so I can buy all of the "stuff" that I want.

* My “thingamabob” broke and I’m too lazy to fix it…I'll just buy a new one, even if it means some kid in a factory has to work overtime in deplorable conditions to make it.

* I'm OK with taking on debt so I can buy a new house or a new car. I'll pay it off over time.

Achieving status is more important to me than just about anything else because it’s my way to let the world know I’ve made it!

If you say any of these things to yourself, there’s a very good chance that your thinking process has been "infected” by Affluenza. ALL of us, I hate to say it, are affected by Affluenza at one point or another in our lives. And it’s a problem, because the effect on our personal, societal, and planetary health is huge.

We Humans Have a Knack for Doing Things that Put Our Health and the Planet’s Health at Risk

Oftentimes, we don’t think twice about what we are doing that is either self-destructive or earth-destructive. Sometimes, we DO think twice about what we are doing that doesn’t reflect good and stewardship of our bodies and the earth stewardship, BUT we’re so accustomed to behaving in a certain way, it seems like it would require too much effort for us to change.

ALL of us, I hate to say it, are affected by Affluenza at one point or another in our lives. And that’s a problem, because the effect on our personal, societal, and planetary health is huge.

The Personal Health Consequences of Affluenza

When we work too hard at our jobs, for instance, in order to satisfy all of our material wants, our priorities in life tend to get totally skewed. We end up isolating ourselves from family members and friends. Nearly every hour of our day is consumed by work. We end up neglecting to take good care of our health. Sometimes, we start to feel angry or resentful about the burdens that we're carrying, even if we feel that we are carrying them for others. And when our mental and emotional health starts to slide, we become the kind of person that nobody wants to be around.

As a modern day culture, we’ve been trained for a very long time to opt for conveniences and to take shortcuts. If you can picture our nation’s landfills in your mind’s eye, you might also be able to envision the tons of MATERIAL THINGS that have been dumped into them, with little regard for their toxic impact on the land, the air, the groundwater, and living things. How many mountains of plastic, glass, wood, and metal objects could the earth have been spared, had millions of people recycled them? How many acres of spoiled food items could the earth have been spared (and how many greenhouse gases could have been sequestered), had millions of people practiced composting? How many items of food and clothing could the earth have been spared if millions of people had donated those items to the homeless?

The Homeless and the Hungry Represent the Faces that Have Been Hurt Material Inequality

The homeless and the hungry, it should be said, are the faces of "affluenza" in our society. They represent the material inequality that is so prevalent in the larger culture. Let's face it. There are the “haves” and the “have not’s.” And, if the ones who already have a lot continue to compete with themselves and others so they can have more (but they don't consider how they might support others who have less), we will continue to witness economic disparity. Economic disparity, I don't have to tell you, leads people to feel disenfranchised. And what do people do when they feel disenfranchised? They look for ways to balance the scales of inequality. Sometimes, they seek out government aid. Sometimes, they beg for help on street corners. Sometimes, they dive headfirst in dumpsters. Sometimes, they resort to stealing from people and businesses. The act of stealing is never the right thing to do. But it's not that hard to understand, you might agree, how "affluenza" influences this type of behavior.

Reprioritizing What Is Truly Important in Our Lives

(Creating a Lifestyle That’s Rooted in The Principle of Simple Abundance)

Is there an antidote to “affluenza” you might be wondering? I’m sure there is, and in my thinking it comes down to our willingness to re-prioritize what is important in our lives. What if, instead of being self-indulgent consumers, we adopted a lifestyle that is rooted in the principle of simple abundance? At its core, simple abundance is based on the idea that what we have in our lives in this moment is ENOUGH. It’s enough, because the simpler our lives are, the less wasteful they are, and the more fulfilling they offer to be! The concept of simple abundance suggests that we ALL have access to resources, opportunities, and relationships in our lives "right now" that offer to bring us contentment.

What Can You Do, If You Feel that There’s No Real Abundance in Your Life?

While I recognize that we all go through phases in our lives when we feel as though we DON’T have access to the kind of resources, opportunities, and relationships that we think will bring us contentment, usually this feeling tends to originate from mental blocks, self-imposed fears, and a shortage of creative thinking!

Working with a Negative Mindset

Unfortunately, a negative mindset can (and does) radically affect the course of our lives. A lot of research that has been done in this area shows that the way we think about ourselves and the world around us can drastically change the way we learn, how we handle stress, how we behave in relationships, and how our immune system functions. So, how can we get past our blocks, fears, and limited thinking? I suppose that the answer to this question is one that each of us must discover for ourselves. What is most important, in my thinking, is that we give thought to how we can create abundance from within. Because in truth, the function of creating simple abundance goes deeper than our external efforts to reduce the size of our wardrobes or toss out the possessions that we haven’t used in the last five years.

Creating Simple Abundance from Within

Creating simple abundance from within is about slowing down, occupying uncluttered mental spaces, getting in touch with our thoughts and feelings, using our imaginations in creative ways, nurturing ourselves and others that we care about, giving and receiving affection, exuding contentment despite external circumstances (finding the perfection in imperfect circumstances), taking advantage of invitations and new opportunities to learn and grow, feeling secure and confident in our life endeavors, and creating memorable moments with ourselves and others.

How I Have Created Space in My Life for the Principle of Simple Abundance to Thrive

One of the ways that I have created space in my life for simple abundance to thrive is by reducing my use of technology and reducing the time that I spend on social media. I made a conscious choice a few years ago, to use a landline telephone and a computer for most of my communications, versus a cell phone, because I didn't want to be distracted by text messages and pop-up messages all day long. I know that I’m one of the few people in the world that doesn’t regularly use a cell phone, but this is okay with me because I feel that I am much more present to what is truly important in my daily life, whether it’s my work, my family, or my friends. The ability to be present to the things and people that are important to me gives me a way to appreciate the ordinary, mundane moments in life. And for me, those moments are often the most special ones. Those moments might happen when I’m taking a walk in the park with my husband. They might happen when I’m sharing an idea about health with my son over the phone. They might happen when I am quietly sipping a cup of tea and reading a good book, or scarfing up a good deal at my local Goodwill, or feeding a stray kitten, or cooking a meal for a neighbor, or simply being present to the wonder and mystery of life itself.

So tell me: How are YOU nurturing the spirit of simple abundance in your life?

If you resonated with today's blog talk, I'd love to hear from you. Until my next talk, I encourage you to check out some of the educational tools featured on my website, which support you in creating the inner sense of abundance that I know your heart craves!

Candia Lea Cole

Founder, Eco-Learning Legacies

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