compelling results through coaching, training & organizational development

Do you Suffer From the “Affluenza Bug?”

Af-flu-en-za n. 1. The bloated, sluggish and unfulfilled feeling that results from efforts to keep up with the Joneses. 2. An epidemic of stress, overwork, waste and indebtedness caused by dogged pursuit of the American Dream. 3. An unsustainable addiction to economic growth. 4. A television program that could change your life.

Test Your Consumption Quota:

  1. Which of the following is comparable to the size of a typical three-car garage?
  2. a basketball court
  3. a McDonald's restaurant
  4. an "RV" (recreational vehicle)
  5. the average home in the 1950s.

Answer: d. Many of today's three-car garages occupy 900 square feet, just about the average size of an entire home in the 1950s. Many people use the extra garage space to store things they own and seldom use. Often we hear that Americans have lost ground economically and have less purchasing power. But Americans are buying more luxurious items, partly by working more and going deeply into debt. The homes they live in and the cars they drive today are often bigger and more technologically advanced than those purchased by their parents.

  1. The percentage of Americans calling themselves "very happy" reached its highest point in what year?
  2. 1957
  3. 1967
  4. 1977
  5. 1987

Answer: a. The number of "very happy" people peaked in 1957, and has remained fairly stable or declined ever since. Even though we consume twice as much as we did in the 1950s, people were just as happy when they had less.

  1. How much of an average American's lifetime will be spent (on average) watching television commercials?
  2. 6 months
  3. 3 months
  4. 1 year
  5. 1.5 years

Answer: c. In contrast, Americans on average spend only 40 minutes a week playing with their children, and members of working couples talk with one another on average only 12 minutes a day.

  1. True or false? Americans carry $1 billion in personal debt, not including real estate and mortgages.

Answer: False. Americans carry $1 trillion in personal debt, approximately $4,000 for every man, woman and child, not including real estate and mortgages. On average, Americans save only 4 percent of their income, in contrast to the Japanese, who save an average of 16 percent.

  1. Which activity did more Americans do in 1996?
  2. graduate from college
  3. declare bankruptcy

Answer: b. In 1996, more than 1 million Americans declared bankruptcy, three times as many as in 1986. Americans have more than 1 billion credit cards, and less than one-third of credit card holders pay off their balances each month.

  1. In the industrialized world, where is the U.S. ranked in terms of its income equality between the rich and the poor? (First being the most income-equal.)
  2. 1st
  3. 5th
  4. 12th
  5. 22nd

Answer: d. The income disparity between the rich and the poor is greatest in the United States.

  1. The world's 358 billionaires together possess as much money as the poorest _____ of the world's population?
  2. 15 percent
  3. 30 percent
  4. 50 percent
  5. 10 percent

Answer: c. Nearly 50 percent. The world's 358 billionaires' combined assets roughly equal the assets of the world's poorest 2.5 billion people.

  1. Since 1950, Americans alone have used more resources than:
  2. everyone who ever lived before them
  3. the combined Third World populations
  4. the Romans at the height of the Roman Empire
  5. all of the above

Answer: All of the above. Since 1950, Americans alone have used more resources than everyone who ever lived before them. Each American individual uses up 20 tons of basic raw materials annually. Americans throw away 7 million cars a year, 2 million plastic bottles an hour and enough aluminum cans annually to make six thousand DC-10 airplanes.

  1. Americans' total yearly waste would fill a convoy of garbage trucks long enough to:
  2. wrap around the Earth six times
  3. reach half-way to the moon
  4. connect the North and South Poles
  5. build a bridge between North America and China

Answer: a. and b. Even though Americans comprise only five percent of the world's population, in 1996 we used nearly a third of its resources and produced almost half of its hazardous waste. The average North American consumes five times as much as an average Mexican, 10 times as much as an average Chinese and 30 times as much as the average person in India.

  1. Which president feared that untamed American capitalism might create a corrupt civilization?
  2. Jimmy Carter
  3. Ronald Reagan
  4. Theodore Roosevelt
  5. Abraham Lincoln

Answer: c. President Theodore Roosevelt feared that allowing American capitalism to develop unleashed would eventually create a corrupt civilization. He was a strong proponent of simple living.

  1. Which economic indicator counts pollution three times as a sign of a growing economy?
  2. the GDP (Gross Domestic Product)
  3. the GPI (Genuine Progress Indicator)

Answer: a. The GDP counts pollution three times: first when it is made, second when it is cleaned up and third when health-care professionals treat pollution-related health problems. An organization called Redefining Progress developed an alternative economic progress measurement, the GPI (Genuine Progress Indicator). GPI takes into account 24 aspects of economic life that the standard GDP (Gross Domestic Product) ignores. The GPI adds value for such activities as housework and volunteerism, and subtracts for the costs of such problems as crime, car accidents and family breakdown.

  1. Of the Americans who voluntarily cut back their consumption, what percent said (in 1995) that they are happier as a result?
  2. 29 percent
  3. 42 percent
  4. 67 percent
  5. 86 percent

Answer: d. Eighty-six percent of Americans who voluntarily cut back their consumption feel happier as a result. Only 9 percent said they were less happy. In 1996, 5 percent of the "baby boom" generation reported practicing a strong form of voluntary simplicity. By the year 2000, some predict this number will rise to 15 percent.

Reprinted courtesy of the Affluenza web site at Affluenza is a production of KCTS/Seattle and Oregon Public Broadcasting and was made possible by a grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Back to Articles