by Oliver James
Got your attention ?
That’s how Oliver James prefaces this book which was started in September 2003 and first published in 2007.
Oliver poses the question, why when by many measures the Western world members are better off why are we feeling more anxious and depressed and basically less happy?
So James spent 12 months traveling and interviewing people in New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Shanghai, Moscow, Copenhagen and New York.
James provides us with an illustration from his tour “Sam is a 35-year old New York stock broker who earns $30M US a year and will inherit about $1Billion when his father dies. He lives alone in a 5 story apartment in Central Manhattan he used to be addicted to heroin, now it is sex with teenagers (19y.o. Russian super-models). He is paranoid, pessimistic, lonely, riddled with affluenza and not a very nice person.
But contrast Chet, a Nigerian born immigrant taxi driver who gave me a lift the next day, earns a thousand times less, he is happily married, not a little paranoid despite frequently being attacked by his passengers, full of optimism and a very decent human being.
Believe me if you have to hang out with these two, you would choose Chet every time.”
James interviewed about 240 people across the globe.
James looks at the happiness levels of the wealthy. He quotes from two American Studies that indicate over 1/3 of a sample of super rich people [those with a net worth of US 100 million or more] were less happy than the national average. A second study found no difference between happiness levels of lottery winners and comparison samples of people with average incomes.
James does not provide a favorable view of Australia.
His view is that Australians are most heavily influenced by America. The author finds similar cases of affluenza in New Zealand, Singapore and Russia.
The Danish way
The standout exception is Denmark, which is reflected in lower rates of emotional distress than in English-speaking Nations.”
When happiness or life satisfaction is rated Denmark consistently comes out as one of the best countries in the world. Indeed it is one of the very few developed nations in which these ratings have increased since 1950, rather than remain the same or dropping. One observer put this down to the “very strong, real life gender equality.” “Men simply cannot go all out for materialistic goals because you have to pick up the children, get back and make sure the cooking and washing up are done.”
Because they have a top marginal income tax rate of 65% [72% for extremely high incomes] and a VAT of 25% the tax system actually discourages people from chasing wealth.
The author makes some interesting points about the Chinese culture which permits a great deal of bad to reside alongside the good.
With regard to the self, failure is as readily acknowledged as success. When the Chinese succeed they are much less likely than the Americans to beat their own drum by attributing it to their cleverness or diligence, implying instead that credit should go to their teachers, parents and support groups or even significantly down to luck
The vaccines – how to cure Affluenza
Replace virus motives [with intrinsic ones].
Virus goals are money, possessions, good appearance and fame.
The author suggests that you :
Be beautiful [not attractive]
By contrast women who seek beauty are largely immune to these ways for corporations to make money out of them. They have developed their own notion of what constitutes a pleasing external prescence and then measure against that, doing it for their own pleasure, not that of others.”
1. Keep it real when it comes to the size of your mortgage
2. Back to basics; be grateful for what you have got
This same period (1987 to 1999) was one in which girls began to outperform boys in almost every academic subject at every educational stage. This greater success of the girls precisely mirrors their increased emotional distress.
The author makes some interesting points about relationships “Studies of American patterns of life between 1974 and 1992 found a decrease in visits to neighbors and to parents, and of an increase in visits to friends and of the number of friends that people said they have.
However these friendships would seem to lack the intimacy of family relationships. Close intimates amongst these friendships were few.
In Asian nations and amongst mainland Europeans there is a tendency to have fewer friends but greater intimacy with them. The development of American patterns in Australia would be in accord with some of the stories in the book.
The author noted that in his travels, authenticity seem most evident – and least confused with sincerity – in New Zealand, Denmark and Russia. New York and Sydney were bursting with sincerity but the very concept of authenticity seemed alien, except as a device for manipulation. It is harder to tell what was happening in Singapore and China.
Personal Implications [prepare to feel better]
“Recently, my wife and I were agonizing over whether to increase our mortgage in order to build an extension. There were many other changes we wanted to make to the inside of the house, having done virtually nothing to it since moving in. One day, pretty much out of the blue, the answer came to my wife; do nothing. We had a house that was easily large enough for our needs. Whilst some of it was seriously run down, the truth was that we should be bloody glad to have a house at all. There were all sorts of things that we wanted to do, but we needed to do none of them. ”
“An important personal implication of this book is that, whenever you are thinking of spending money, small amount or large, ask yourself do I need this – or do I want it?”
Key vaccines for women
Key vaccines for men
1. Recognize how far you have been distanced from the passions that vitalized your early years and rediscover that vitality and playfulness
3. Fatherhood – think about your role, consider taking a greater role
The Unselfish Capitalist Manifesto
Perhaps government should be more focused on the happiness of their people not just their wealth.
This reminds one of an old quote:
“If you want to be happy for a few hours get drunk; if you want to be happy for a few years; get married; if you want to be happy for life, get a garden.”
“As I tried to show you throughout this book, regardless of how much money or status is attained, for the virus infected there is nearly always a pervasive awareness of someone with more.”
I enjoyed this book. It is an important discussion – what really makes us happy ?
Have we been sucked into this conumerist lifestyle – I suspect that most of us have. Some of the differences between cultures / contries were interesting.
The personal epiphany of the author about deciding not to increase his mortgage to renovate their house – sums up the dilemma.
Deeply concerning was the chapter on teenagers and educational expectations – something has clearly gone wrong with the situation for young women (this intuitively fits some of my own observations).
I do not share all of the author’s opinions – I do not see why every privatisation for example is evil.
The key questions that arise are very personal ones :
- what really makes you happy ?
- do you know ?
- have you stopped to think about it ?
- Do you know the difference between your wants and needs ?
- Are you afflicted by Affluenza ?
- If so – do you want to change – and what is your exit plan ?
Perhaps this book can help you get to the point where you give yourself permission to change your approach.
One thing that has been really useful to me has been to go on a low information diet. In this way you escape much advertising which is the pornography of Affluenza. Here is a link to my previous post on a Low Information Diet.
For more information :
Author’s website : http://www.selfishcapitalist.com/index.html
Relevant Quotes :
“It is a preoccupation with possessions, more than anything else that prevents us from living freely and nobly” – Henry David Thoreau
“The things you own end up owning you.” Tyler Durden in Fight
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