What is affluenza

What is affluenza

Joseph Darby

How to prevent a different kind of flu which is sweeping across developed countries, including NZ

"Affluenza" is the term used to describe a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more.

The term might also be used to describe the inability of an individual to understand the consequences of their actions because of their social status or economic privilege.


The term affluenza is thought to have been first used in 1954, though was popularised in 1997 with a documentary of the same name, then by a subsequent book first published in 2001.

As you may have identified, the term is a blend (portmanteau) of affluence and influenza.

Affluenza is not a medically recognized condition.


Affluenza refers to the single-minded pursuit of accumulating wealth and success, which can damage relationships and cause depression or anxiety.

Individuals who suffer from affluenza often fail to recognise the societal repercussions of their actions, which may cause mental or physical harm or anguish upon others.

Some symptoms of affluenza are an all-consuming focus on work and earning money and a self-image tied directly to financial status.

Affluenza and children

As most wealthy people have had to sacrifice and work hard to attain whatever they have, affluenza can often strike worst in their children, who may grow up in a world of private schools and expensive sports.

Understanding affluenza

Affluenza is a symptom of a culture with strong materialistic values, where the accumulation of riches is considered one of the highest achievements.

Proponents of affluenza theory claim that those afflicted by the condition operate under the assumption that money will buy them happiness. However, they often find that the pursuit of the next step on the career ladder, a nicer car, a house with more bedrooms, and so on robs them of fulfillment and leaves them feeling perpetually unsatisfied. They usually have trouble functioning in everyday society, and struggle to distinguish between right and wrong because the world of privilege they live in insulates them from the rest of the world and prevents them from developing empathy for people of modest backgrounds.

Some of those with financial privilege can isolate themselves from the population at large, which can foster a sense of entitlement that can be self-perpetuating: the wealthy may feel they have earned their way into a social class with superior intellect and talent. As a result, they might believe the rules of society that apply to other people do not apply to them.

Remarkably, there have been some court cases where legal counsel mounted an "affluenza defense" to state that their client's social condition afflicted them, causing them not to understand the consequences of their actions. It states a wealthy person isn't criminally liable for their actions. This legal defense has been argued in U.S. courtrooms, and in some cases, the perpetrator received a less severe sentence due to a legal defense citing "affluenza" affliction.

How to prevent affluenza

As affluenza is most prolific among those who grow up with wealth, the best way to prevent it is in childhood. Consider the following:

  1. Give responsibilities and enforce consequences. Preventing affluenza starts with discipline. This includes enforcing consequences when the child breaks rules and giving responsibilities such as chores in early childhood. Each show that there are real consequences for one’s actions and that life requires hard work and accountability, regardless of status and wealth. Giving children duties creates opportunities for them to feel accomplished when those duties are fulfilled. It also establishes a pattern or habit of personal responsibility. Often it is with these struggles that real personal growth takes place.
  2. Regularly update the family about business activities and efforts. If children understand the sacrifice, hard work, and smarts required to get ahead in this world, it’s more likely they’ll develop the humility to go with it.
  3. Establish explicit policies on matters such as family financing and family employment. This might be that family members’ sound business proposals are considered for loans made under bank-level conditions; however, there are no payouts for adult children to buy homes or cars. Any family members employed in a family business are only employed based on need and meritocracy.
  4. Promote generous giving and involvement. Involvement in the community can be promoted as part of the family philosophy, after all – giving does make you happy.
  5. Hard work forever pays. Beginning in school, encourage children to secure employment or even start their own businesses to earn resources. This imparts the meaning of hard work, the importance of being responsible and accountable and the pride of ownership in dollars earned. In affluent families, travel, and other enrichment activities, including participation in sports events, can make it difficult to consistently integrate the weekly responsibilities of a job or other activities during the school year, which often are the most enriching lessons of all.
  6. Teach financial literacy at age-appropriate levels. This helps children understand and appreciate what they already have.
  7. Avoid buying them the “it” toy the second it hits the shelves (or smartphones or devices when they get older). Think about what you are setting them up for. They’ll believe they must have every new product as it becomes available. Make them work for it, make them earn it. Then they’ll have a deeper appreciation for it when they do finally get it.
  8. Spend the most valuable thing you can – time – on your children. Make time to be with your kids instead of always hiring a sitter. Everyone is busy but spending time — quality time — with your kids is vital to their upbringing and development. You are raising them to be who they are to become.

The bottom line – avoiding affluenza

Left unchecked, overconsumption can affect every aspect of our lives: our health, our happiness, and more.

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