The condition called ‘Affluenza’ has been defined in several ways. Here is one definition:
‘A painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of
overload, debt, anxiety and waste resulting from a dogged pursuit of more.’
The psychologist Oliver James has related the stimulation of artificial needs to the rise of affluenza, and has asserted that there is a correlation between the rise in affluenza and the resulting increase in material inequality. James further links emotional distress to this condition and asserts that it is nearly twice as prevalent in English-speaking societies than in other developed societies. Thus, the Danes or the Japanese, although enjoying similar levels of prosperity to the British, Americans or Australians, suffer much less from ‘Affluenza’.
To me, the key symptom of affluenza is the all-prevailing sense of anxiety about material possessions and money. We cram ourselves with food (much of it unhealthy), cram our houses with ‘stuff’, and worst of all cram our minds with images of vast material affluence which are pretty unrealistic. We are constantly bombarded with messages from the ‘hidden persuaders’ (the advertisers, media moguls, politicians, opinion formers) that we are no good unless we are consuming more and more stuff and making more and more money. And we end up possessed by our possessions.
Our modern god of ‘Mammon’ (a word meaning that in which we put our trust) is really a way of trusting to our own resources instead of putting our trust in the one true God. If we could put our trust in the provision of God rather than ourselves, we would soon find we were relieved of a tremendous burden of false expectation in ourselves. As the Sermon on the Mount tells us, worry is unnecessary and basically doesn’t work! Scripture constantly assures us that God knows our needs and will supply them if only we lighten up and let him act in our lives. It isn’t that wealth or money or possessions are bad in themselves, but the truth we need to realise is that we don’t own anything and God is the real wealth-creator and the only appropriate object of our desire.