Affluenza: 1. A painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more. 2. The bloated, sluggish and unfulfilled feeling that results from efforts to keep up with the Joneses. 3. An epidemic of stress, overwork, waste and indebtedness caused by the pursuit of the American Dream. 4. An unstable addiction to economic growth. (www.affluenza.org)
As the Advent season approaches, more people are suffering from affluenza than influenza from the cold weather. The act of giving during Christmas is often undermined by this illness. Many would suggest that this condition is caused by American consumerism and the expectation of numerous material gifts on Christmas day. How can we avoid this? What is the prescribed vaccine for affluenza? It’s simple.
Originally, I found this definition in a curriculum about voluntary simplicity that I experienced with a small group this summer. It was no surprise to me that a correlation was made between living simply and consumption. However, after my group finished the curriculum, I found that limiting my amount of consumption did not easily equate to a simple life. Instead, committing to living simply has created a lifestyle that requires concentration and effort – far from simple. Voluntary simplicity isn’t merely spending less; rather it is a concerted effort in exploring why we consume in the first place.
Approaching voluntary simplicity in this way has been a beautiful and challenging examination of my values. Especially during a time when I’m unsure of my values, reflecting upon the purchases I make throughout the day has started to unwrap the values that society holds and how I fit within that structure. However, having a conscience (or lack of one on some days) while at the store does not encompass the entirety of consumption. By starting with small purchases at a convenience store, I have slowly begun to view all of my actions as if they were transactions in a store. I ask myself, “What is this action costing others? What is it costing me? How does this action reflect the culture surrounding me?” Although attempting to quantify everything is not always a healthy practice, viewing my everyday tasks in this light has led me to further solidify my values.
I have also begun to look for examples of simple living through my everyday interactions. A few months ago, I visited my professor during his office hours to ask for post-graduation advice. In response, he pulled out a piece of left-over poster board and drew a Venn diagram with three circles. He labeled the circles passions, skills, and opportunities. “The goal,” he said while pointing to the middle of the diagram, “is to find something that combines these three circles.” I was feeling especially flustered that day about growing-up and his Venn diagram was so simple – almost relaxing. Some may argue that his advice was oversimplified, but as I thought about it, it really describes everyone’s actions perfectly. I hung the sloppily written Venn diagram in my room and it serves as a reminder to keep the overwhelming uncertainties about next year in perspective. As the months until graduation become less and less, this has been a very reassuring process.
During this holiday season when I see my extended family and spend more time with my immediate family, the million dollar question has been my plans for after graduation. I appreciate their interest and concern, but for someone who has a little idea of what to do as a graduate, this question can be very frustrating. As I gain a better sense of my values through attempting to live simply, the frustrating part isn’t the fact that I don’t have determinate plans. Instead, the difficulty has been portraying my certainty in the process itself. I am more comfortable with living a life of examination and simplicity as I attempt to fulfill the middle of the Venn diagram. Not only am I happy, but I’ve successfully fended off affluenza in the process as well.
Ben Rumbaugh is a Senior International Studies major from Wooster, Ohio. This past summer Ben worked at The Center for Holocaust & Humanities with Xavier’s Summer Service Internship. He is involved in Alternative Break and Contemplatives in Action. Ben is always good for a smile, kind word, and a laugh.