Running head: AN EXACERBATION OF AFFLUENZA 1
An Exacerbation of Affluenza
Edward J Draper
Siena Heights University
AN EXACERBATION OF AFFLUENZA 2
An Exacerbation of Affluenza
Have you ever wondered why the bar society uses to measure one’s quality of their
standard of living is scaled by their possessions and monetary wealth? I believe it has to do with
societal standards and the culture set forth by the people who follow these standards. So, who
determined which position of the scale to be ideal? At what point in the growth of humankind
was this determined?
Some relate this to television and other media, where we see Musicians, Athletes, and
other entertainers, flaunt large homes, fancy cars, and what seems like an endless supply of
money. People see this and yearn to have these same luxuries. Why is this? The answer to this
is simple; these luxuries have in them symbolism; symbolism that equates to a separation of
them and the lack of their basic needs. With each of these “things” comes the basis for Maslow’s
Hierarchy of Needs: sustenance, safety/security, the feeling of being accepted, and
approval/recognition (Huitt, 2007).
I relate it to earlier times; times when one had to work hard for everything they had and
that a stockpile meant you could survive in tough times. Another way to define standard of
living is the individuals chance to survive; the more “things” one had meant that the individual
could survive longer in times of drought or long periods of inclement weather. This stockpile
also gave this person power. Power to influence people because they held something the others
needed for the above-mentioned basic survival.
Under this same principle, being over-weight in many cultures is a status and power
symbol. Those who can over-provide for themselves can provide for others, if they so choose.
AN EXACERBATION OF AFFLUENZA 3
My Standard of Living and From Where I Came
It is not easy for people to look at themselves objectively. Perception plays a large role in
the reality and Howell (1982) describes it best when he describes unconscious incompetence in
his book The Empathic Communicator, he says, “you do not know what you do not know”. My
outlook on my position may differ than others and I may be bias.
Ultimately, I view my standard of living today as comfortable. We are not struggling;
my family has more than I did as a child growing up. We drive newer vehicles, we live in a nice
safe home, we always have clothes on our back, food to eat, and we go out to eat more often than
we should. We are able to care for our pets who never go without. We have the ability to be
present when our children are participating in extra-curricular activities and they always have the
gear or gadgets they want while doing these activities.
In addition, for the most part, we travel at least once a year. Our children have swam
with dolphins in the Bahamas, snorkeled with sea turtles in St. Thomas, watched planes land
over Maho Beach in Sint Maarten, cruised on the world’s largest cruise ship, as well as been able
to visit a hand-full of States around the United States.
Growing up, my basic needs were met; however, not with as much luxury. We had
reliable transportation, but both of my parents drove used vehicles. We lived in a nice safe home
and had clothes on our back. We had plenty of food; I have my waistline to prove it. I always
participated in extra-curricular activities; however, there were many times that only one of my
parents attended as the other was commonly working.
One major difference was our ability to travel. My parents took us on the common
Northern Michigan trips: Mackinaw Island, the Soo (Sault) Locks, and camping once in the
AN EXACERBATION OF AFFLUENZA 4
Upper Peninsula; however, only twice in my childhood did my family travel out-of-state. Not
that this is too uncommon, especially for the era. My parents did take my sister and me to
Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, as well as a trip to Disney World.
With this, I am not saying we somehow had a horrible childhood because we did not
travel the world, I am simply suggesting that our abilities differed at that time.
A Different Standard of Living
Today, society has set a culture that requires a person to live more affluently than in days
past. With the advancement of technology, it would be much more difficult to live without
certain luxuries, such as the internet, a cellular phone, or reliable transportation. Each of these
amenities cost money and yet, without these luxuries, a family can be held hostage by their
inability to “keep up with the Jones’”, resulting in an influencing and revolving effect on the
family’s earning potential.
Furthermore, without the right clothes, haircut, car, or electronic devices, an individual’s
social status is at risk. They can be subject to bullying, rejection, and they run the risk of being
labeled as a “have-not”. These conditions are not only tough on the individual’s self-esteem, but
can drastically alter their opportunities from the beginning.
When looking at these dangers, it makes me ask a few questions. What if there was a
drastic change in my family’s financial situation? What would we do if our income were
significantly reduced? Would we be able to adjust accordingly or is our stability in jeopardy as
we fall into a condition of exacerbated “affluenza” (Simon, n.d.)?
I can say, though we are not perfect or fully prepared, my wife and I have worked hard
and continue to work at reducing our risk, even though we live in this acquisitive culture. At one
AN EXACERBATION OF AFFLUENZA 5
point in time, we suffered from affluenza. We had a camper, an ATV, a time-share
condominium, and many other “things”.
This preparation began when my wife received an acceptance letter to nursing school,
which was the initial motivator for our life-style modification. We sold the “toys”, had our cable
television disconnected, and began paying off as much debt as possible. We knew that, as part of
taking on the endeavor of nursing school would require my wife to minimize her employment to
a casual or per diem status, subsequently cutting our family income in half. We made the life-
style changes work; and after a couple of years, my wife graduated, and became a licensed
After she began working again, we added back some of the amenities. We bought my
wife a new car; however, we did not add back items such as cable television, as we found that we
truly did not miss it. Instead, we used the money saved to start taking family trips, which we
found to be more enjoyable.
Day-to-day, we each are attempting to fulfill our own our needs, based on our own
perception of these needs. At times, we Americans base this perception on what others have,
rather than the actual physiologic and social needs.
When exploring my own condition, beginning with past and traveling through until
today, I have a better understanding that, though the life I am giving my children differs from the
life my parents gave me, we each put weight into the areas we feel are important. We estimate
and calculate how much time and money we put into different items.
AN EXACERBATION OF AFFLUENZA 6
Affluence affects each of us differently and to varying degrees. We each have a different
perception of what is a need and what is excessive. Ultimately, treating an exacerbation of
affluenza comes down to a balancing act of our financial condition, cultural standards, and the
choices the people feel they can or cannot live. We need to keep at bay, the urge to live outside
of our means to simply, “keep up with the Jones’”.
AN EXACERBATION OF AFFLUENZA 7
Howell, W.S. (1982). The empathic communicator (pg. 30). University of Minnesota:
Wadsworth Publishing Company
Huitt, W. (2007). Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta,
GA: Valdosta State University. Retrieved from, http://www.edpsycinteractive.org/
Simon, S. (n.d.). Affluenza. PBS. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/kcts/affluenza/