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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

Dreaded 'affluenza' skews workers' values

By Vicky Smith
Sun Media

For many of us, July and August are holiday months we greatly anticipate.

We refresh ourselves and rekindle or deepen the bond with loved ones. But holidays come and go.

For many, after the first week back to work, the refreshed feeling fades and it is difficult to keep resolutions we made on our holidays.

PBS special

The dreaded disease of "affluenza" creeps back quickly and we have to fight it to maintain the euphoria we gained through holidays.

On the web, I discovered PBS was host to a special that explored the social and environmental cost of materialism and over-consumption. Much of the information for this article is from the PBS website

Affluenza is defined as:
  • The bloated, sluggish and unfulfilled feeling that results from efforts to keep up with the Joneses.
  • An epidemic of stress, overwork, waste and indebtedness caused by dogged pursuit of the Canadian dream.
  • An unsustainable addiction to economic growth.

    Jessie H. O'Neill, a psychotherapist and affluenza authority, defines it on the Affluenza Project website as:
  • A dysfunctional relationship with money/wealth or the pursuit of it.
  • The collective addictions, character flaws, psychological wounds, neuroses and behavioural disorders caused or exacerbated by the presence of or desire for money/wealth.
  • People across all socio-economic levels buying into the overriding value within our culture that money solves all problems.

    Take this quiz from the PBS website. It will give you an indication of how sick you might be:

    Complete this simple true/false test and diagnose yourself using the key below.

    1. I'm willing to pay more for a T-shirt if it has a cool corporate logo on it.

    2. I believe that if I buy the cocktail dress, the cocktail party will come.

    3. I have a shoe collection Imelda Marcos would envy.

    4. When I'm cold, I take my clothes off and turn up the heat.

    5. I'm willing to work 40 years at a job I hate so I can buy lots of stuff.

    6. When I'm feeling blue, I like to go shopping and treat myself.

    7. I want a sport utility vehicle, although I rarely drive in conditions that warrant one.

    8. I usually make just the minimum payment on my credit cards.

    9. I believe that whoever dies with the most toys wins.

    10. Most of the things my friends/family and I enjoy doing together are free.

    11. I don't measure my self-worth (or that of others) by what I own.

    12. I know how to pinch a dollar until it screams.

    13. I worry about the effect of advertising on children.

    14. To get to work, I carpool, ride my bike or use public transportation.

    15. I'd rather be shopping right now.

    For questions one to nine and 15, give yourself two points for true and one point for false. For questions 10 to 14, give yourself zero points for true and two points for false.

    If you scored 10 to 15, no danger signs of affluenza; 16 to 22, warning, you have mild affluenza; 23 to 30, cut up your credit cards and call a doctor.

    O'Neill is the author of The Golden Ghetto: The Psychology of Affluence. The following excerpt explains how affluenza came to exist.

    "The unprecedented affluence that followed World War II has lulled us as a nation into a false sense of entitlement much as it lulls an individual who inherits money.

    'Wealth is our right'

    "We somehow think that we not only deserve wealth but that it is our right. We pout and sulk when it does not appear. One only need look back in history to realize what a preposterous and damaging assumption that is.

    "What we have failed to do is to use our affluence for the benefit of the Earth and humankind.

    "As a culture, we have been on a mindless, selfish binge to see how much money we can individually accumulate."

    Too many of us have bought into the "American dream." We have sacrificed our health, families and sanity. Striving for happiness obsesses us.

    The assumption that money and material possessions buy happiness has turned many of us into workaholics.

    The false sense of entitlement, which is characteristic of affluenza, has driven salaries up so many people are losing their jobs because companies can't compete in the world market.

    "Last year, Americans, who make up only five per cent of the world's population, used nearly a third of its resources and produced almost half of its hazardous waste.

    'No bargain'

    "Add overwork, personal stress, the erosion of family and community, skyrocketing debt and the growing gap between rich and poor, and it's easy to understand why some people say that the American dream is no bargain. Many are opting out of the consumer chase, redefining the dream, and making 'voluntary simplicity' a way of life," states Scott Simon, host of the PBS show.

    Affluenza can be successfully treated.

    O'Neill says: "The most important step is the first one: to bring the condition out of hiding, to name and describe it, to demystify it.

    "With personal insight into the potentially crippling effects that money, or its blind pursuit, can have on every aspect of our lives -- professionally and personally -- we can begin to create our own monetary intentions and employ our money in more appropriate ways.

    "As business owners and employees we can learn how to create emotional balance around financial matters in the work environment, resulting in a more successful business and, most importantly, a more balanced and successful lifestyle."

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