Book Review: Affluenza

affluenzaMoney can’t buy happiness, is a truism (although some disagree). Oliver James sets out to show how consumerism or affluenza makes us deeply unhappy as a people. Essentially it breaks down like this, the more we have and the more we’re encouraged to have the more likely we are to end up depressed and the more likely it is that our relationships will fail (for a review by an economics professor read this).

James interviews people from US, New Zealand, Australia, China, Singapore, Russia, the UK & Denmark and compares findings. The more your economy is like that of the UK and the US the more likely you are to be infected by the Affluenza virus. And compares how we bring up children, educate them (he’s particularly strident about the dangers to young children of group nurseries), beauty, work and so on. As such it deals with anecdotal evidence and can be quite simplistic. You can draw only so much from talking to a few depressed middle class types.

His answers are all about replacing virus values with intrinsic ones, having goals which aren’t about consumption, seeing through the dangers of advertising etc… It comes as no surprise to me that consumerism is likely to affect our mental health and evidence suggests there is a level at which income makes little difference to overall levels of contentment or happiness yet still we strive on.

It’s a book that sold well and James is a good writer, with humour and sometimes compelling stories even if not all his solutions are very convincing. It’s quite a long book, spinning things out and losing pace and momentum as a result. A considerably shorter book would have put the argument in a much more coherent and cohesive form and made for a more compelling book.

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