Affluenza Summary By John de Graaf, David Wann and Thomas H. Naylor

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Affluenza is a book that discusses the serious addiction many of us have to consumption in our society.

The idea behind it is that since the Industrial Revolution, we’ve become increasingly reliant on shopping as a way to make ourselves feel better, but in reality, it hasn't been fulfilling for many of us.

This book looks at how this so-called disease has grown and spread throughout our societies, and provides advice on how we can prevent it from taking hold.

It is an eye-opening look into the consequences of this addictive behaviour, and provides helpful insight into ways we can immunize ourselves against affluenza.


Book Name: Affluenza (How Overconsumption is Killing Us – and How to Fight Back)

Author(s): John de Graaf, David Wann and Thomas H. Naylor

Rating: 4.6/5

Reading Time: 16 Minutes

Categories: Economics

Author Bio

Affluenza, a book by John de Graaf, David Wann and Thomas H. Naylor, is a deep dive into why our modern materialistic society is so impactful on the world and its inhabitants.

These three authors have considerable experience in their respective fields that has brought about this important insight.

John de Graaf is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and co-founder of The Happiness Initiative.

David Wann is president of the Sustainable Futures Society and author of ten books, including The New Normal.

Lastly, Thomas H. Naylor was professor emeritus of economics at Duke University, with years of consulting experience in 30 countries around the globe.

How to Find a Cure for Affluenza: Exploring the Impact of Overconsumption on our Health and Environment

Health and Environment

What do you own? Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’re already starting to think about how many gadgets you possess.

But do you need them all? With every new product upgrade being touted by companies, it can be hard to stay satisfied with what we have.

This is because our society has become addicted to overconsumption.

We just want more and more, which often means that vital aspects of life get pushed aside.

And the impact it’s having on our planet is catastrophic.

But with the Affluenza book summary, readers gain insight into why we are so eager to keep buying things, as well as into the damage it causes both mentally and physically.

The book also provides practical steps to help individuals break out of their overconsumption trapping and lead a simpler life – one where they purchase far fewer items while still feeling content.

Plus it covers what schools and governments can do in order to stop the cycle of overspending and overbuying once and for all.

Affluenza: How Technology’s Drive for Increased Productivity Is Sabotaging Our Quality of Life

The industrial revolution brought with it a vast increase in productivity like no other before it.

Unfortunately, rather than using this newfound ability to allow people more leisure time to enjoy life, Americans have instead become addicted to consumption.

Seventy-one percent of our economy is now spent on buying consumer goods, and our increased productivity has allowed us to buy more without having to work longer hours.

This addiction to consumption can be seen in the deterioration of our happiness since 1957.

Despite being able to produce more with less effort and resources, the number of Americans who consider themselves “very happy” has steadily been decreasing ever since.

This is because most of what we do in our free time is still related to shopping or consuming products rather than investing in relationships or activities which could bring true joy.

In short, post-industrial productivity has created an addiction to consumption that is bringing down our quality of life; instead of gaining freedom and satisfaction from producing more with less effort, it has left us chasing material goods that never seem quite satisfying enough.

It’s Not All Shopping and Cocooning: Breaking the Vicious Cycle of Buying Things for Unhappiness


In our modern society where we often lack the time to form meaningful relationships, many of us turn to shopping in an attempt to make up for the unhappiness that results from our over-consumption and workaholic mentality.

Unfortunately, this only ends up making matters worse; when we try to compensate for our loneliness and boredom by buying things, those problems remain unresolved – instead we find ourselves caught in a destructive cycle of buying more stuff to fix the problems caused by our desires to buy stuff in the first place.

Take the example of one compulsive American buyer.

He discovered that if he bought several expensive TVs and stereos, his neighbors would look at him as an expert and come to him for advice.

But even after purchasing all these items, his feelings of unhappiness and loneliness persisted.

The message here is clear: Shopping can’t solve life’s deeper issues or provide meaning connections.

In order to lead a fulfilling life, we must strive for something beyond material gains.

The Social and Environmental Costs of Affluenza: Unsustainable Consumption is Destroying Our Planet

The environmental consequences of over-consumption are devastating.

Our insatiable appetite for products has driven us to use up the world’s most accessible resources, meaning we have to resort to more dangerous and complicated mining procedures.

For example, copper has been extensively overmined – yet we keep extracting it.

In fact, over half of all the copper ever used has been dug out of the ground in the past 24 years!

That’s not all – our demand for oil has led us to take risks and Mine in dangerous areas.

A perfect example is the Deepwater Horizon oil mine which ran a mile deep into the ocean.

When this tragically exploded, it released 4.9 million gallons of oil and caused considerable damage to wildlife around it.

Not only that, but our affluenza is also causing immense damage to nature itself through species extinction.

Coral reefs are dying off at an alarming rate due to rising temperatures and increased pollution – we might be on the verge of a huge species extinction if something doesn’t change soon!

It’s clear that our unsustainable lifestyle is having dire consequences for our planet and it is essential that we become more aware in order to protect and preserve it for future generations.

The Impact of Overconsumption on Inequality and Quality of Life

Quality of Life

The consequences of affluenza extend far beyond just the poor.

Cheap production costs prey on nations like Bangladesh, where workers are subjected to low wages and even worse working conditions- a state which has claimed around 1,800 lives since 2005 as a result of factory fires and building collapses.

In other places, such as Louisiana’s Cancer Alley- where hazardous materials have polluted the air and water supply- only the poorest families can afford to remain.

We need look no further than our media to understand why these problems continue.

By constantly teaching us that opulence is an attainable target, popular TV shows like Desperate Housewives and CSI have created an entirely unrealistic standard for us to uphold with our consumption patterns.

Even worse, this damaging rhetoric has spread past U.S borders.

Many developing countries model their lifestyles off of the wealthy American “dream”, however unreachable it may be.

This is illustrated poignantly in Manila, where one of its most expensive shopping malls sits only a stone’s throw away from Smokey Mountain- a region riddled with poverty.

When inequality reaches extreme heights, everyone feels its effects- even those at the very top of America’s socioeconomics ladder.

Our country currently holds last place regarding income equality among advanced nations worldwide, which results in increased crime rates and lowered standards of health for all our citizens- regardless of financial status.

Even so, rich Americans do possess one noteworthy advantage: higher levels of happiness due to decreased levels of worry about money for day to day expenses when compared to poorer people living in more equal European states .When it comes down to it though, affluenza leaves everybody out in the cold regardless of wealth or class; we must strive towards global equality if greater wellbeing is to be achieved collectively.

Affluenza Is Not Part of Human Nature — We Were Meant to Be Content with What We Have

Contrary to popular belief, overconsuming material items is not a necessity or an undefeatable urge within human nature.

In fact, it has already been thoughtfully challenged and criticized by wise minds throughout history – well before the current epidemic of affluenza.

One example is UCLA anthropologist Allen Johnson’s two year study of the Machiguenga tribe in the Amazonian rainforest.

This group of people only works approximately three to eight hours a day, valuing time with family and friends just as much (if not more) than acquiring possessions.

This lifestyle proves that happiness isn’t necessarily dependent on consuming goods and should be lauded as being more ‘affluent’ than what western culture values.

Countless historians also agree with this notion – especially those within the Stoic and religious traditions.

Seneca was famous for his quote admonishing slave life under lavish marble and gold domes rather than contentment beneath a humble thatched roof.

Additionally, the fall of mankind evident in religious stories such as the Garden of Eden depicts how greed overthing ultimately leads to our own personal downfall.

Jesus himself encouraged his followers to give away all their worldly enough possessions, emphasizing frugality as a higher virtue over gorging on goods and services .

It’s clear that longterm fulfillment does not arise from materialism; it comes from carefully considering if we actually need something or if it will bring us joy before purchasing/consuming it.

The Power of Planned Obsolescence and Credit Cards Traps Society in a Cult of Consumption

Credit Cards

In Affluenza, it’s clear that overconsumption has been systematically facilitated.

Companies prioritize planned obsolescence of their products, where a product is designed to last for only a short time or be continually upgraded.

One example of this is Gillette’s disposable razors.

Sometimes the upgrades are more about style than functionality, but customers still purchase them even if they don’t offer much benefit to its predecessor.

General Motors pioneered this idea after The Great Depression and it is now used by many other major companies, such as Apple with the iPhones that keep being released.

Low-interest loans and credit cards have allowed people to put off paying for goods until later, creating an easy way for people to continue buying even if they can’t afford it right away.

Bank of America even famously advertised how anyone could get access to “instant money” with their convenient personal loans.

As credit cards became more popular, this problem was magnified as citizens now had personal debt on them at all times without asking any institution for assistance.

Overconsumption has become so normalised today because various companies and institutions have actively worked together to make purchasing goods easier and more accessible — regardless of one’s financial situation.

The Ubiquity of Ads and PR Tactics: How Companies Manipulate Us Without Us Noticing

It’s hard to go even a few seconds without seeing some sort of advertisement.

Whether it be on television, newspapers, billboards, or even textbooks – advertisements are everywhere and they’re highly effective.

So much so that most people can recognize hundreds of corporate logos, but fewer than ten types of plants.

But it doesn’t just stop at ads.

PR strategists also work hard to manipulate us into buying more stuff with often-unnoticed techniques.

For instance, many businesses will fund ‘front groups’ to defend their products by giving them a false sense of credibility.

An example would be The Heartland Institute – which was created by energy companies and has worked to downplay the urgency of climate change awareness.

In short, advertisements and PR strategies are constantly trying to seduce us into wanting more stuff – and in most cases, this works without us realizing it.

Take Action to Cure Affluenza: Find Ways to Consume Less and Receive Support from Others


Reducing your levels of consumption can be an effective way to lead a happier life.

A survey conducted by the Center for a New American Dream in 1995 showed that 86 percent of those who reduced their levels of consumption reported feeling happier afterward.

Simple measures like downsizing your living space and getting more out of what you currently have can help you break away from consumer culture, freeing up more time for connecting with others and exploring nature.

For additional support, consider finding or joining a voluntary study circle.

Circular Simplicity author Cecile Andrews has led hundreds of circles to help people meet their needs on lower incomes and find fulfillment outside of buying goods and services.

With the advent of social media there are even more opportunities to engage with like-minded individuals who understand affluenza and want to get rid of it as much as you do.

Making connections online or in person is a great way to stay motivated while combating affluenza.

Using Anti-Ads and Media Literacy to Reject Affluenza in Our Digital Age

Media education and subversion is a must for immunizing us against the affluenza virus that’s all around us.

Everywhere we look, we see people buying stuff they don’t really need in response to advertisements.

The only way to inoculate ourselves against this virus is to not just accept it on face value, but instead use its own tools against it.

One good example of this idea is the concept of anti-ads or “anti-affluence efforts”.

These are ads that appear somewhat authentic at first, until you realize that they’re actually the opposite of an advert.

A great anti-ad featured two Marlboro Man-like cowboys riding into the sunset with a tagline that read “I miss my lung Bob”, highlighting the deadly effects of smoking.

When kids are educated to analyze and question ads like these, it greatly increases their media literacy skills.

In fact, many schools allot time specifically for media literacy as part of their curriculum now which suggests how important such knowledge can be in combatting affluenza.

Wrap Up

The final message of the book Affluenza is that more money will not automatically equal more happiness in life.

People need to step away from their focus on consumption, as it is ruining both them and the planet.

In order to combat this affliction, people need to make more out of their money instead of making more money.

This can help lead to true happiness and a better future for our home.

In conclusion, readers should remember that money doesn’t equate to greater contentment – consuming less stuff yields more satisfaction and a chance at saving our planet.

So make sure you’re taking action today by changing your habits and creating a path towards enriched daily life experiences rather than material ones.

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

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