On Avoiding Possession OVERLOAD
By Joan French LCPC NCC
You might be familiar with the term ‘Affluenza’. It isn’t a diagnosis the APA recognizes in its manual of psychological disorders, and to be clear – it is not a recognized illness. It’s been referred to as a ‘junk science’ term, and has gained recent recognition as a topical ‘buzzword’ – in part because of a newsworthy legal case.
A documentary, titled ‘Affluenza’, aired on PBS in 1997. The associated website defines affluenza as, “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.”
So, although it’s not a diagnosis, per say, it appears to be an attempt at defining a real problem. I would say – this derisive word might appear to trivialize and mock a problem which may contribute to dismal global consequences, both for the health of the earth and for all species living on the earth. Call it possession/achievement overload, materialism, ‘stuffocation’, or flippantly call it ‘affluenza’ – the effects of this condition are costing us all.
I want to offer five tips / reflections which may help you work toward healing from this condition:
1. Invest in EXPERIENCES!
There are many reasons people feel compelled to buy loads of luxury or ‘wantful things’. Research tells us it might be an effort to bandage a bruised ego and improve self-esteem. It’s part of the American Dream to prosper materialistically. Those who have the most toys win? That’s what many have been raised to believe, however it’s simply not true. The key: find something more meaningful to invest in: DOING instead of buying. Invest in experiences. Experiences have STAYING POWER.
Examples: Plan an ice cream social for close friends and family, and ask each to bring a topping! Ride in a hot air balloon with your partner. Plan a photo shoot with a friend in the nature preserve and create a collage with the pictures and present them as a gift. Take a road trip to some sleepy vacation town, to see the leaves turn. I often advise my clients that we all need something to look forward too. Research tells us that participating in novel experiences makes us happier.
2. Cherish Small PLEASURES
This world is just so full of small pleasures:
- gathering vegetables from a garden you started from a seedling
- buying some beautiful cut flowers for your intimate friendly gathering later on in the evening
- fresh, clean bed sheets
- admiring a beautiful view
- relaxing outdoors on a sunny day
- making a baby laugh
- relishing in an unexpected compliment
- smiling at a stranger
Another example: a colleague of mine* who always has a smile on her face, stopped to say, “Hello.” She complimented my two long strands of pearls in conjunction with my classic ensemble. I felt so happy to receive this compliment and it brightened my day! *Shout out to Jenn (you made my day!)
Cherishing small pleasures is a type of mindfulness. Mindfulness can help you live more consciously and intentionally. I often recommend using meditation to help manage stress and also to enhance mindfulness. Research has repeatedly shown that meditation can provide stress resiliency, increase intelligence & build brain size (also preventing brain cell death!), and can make you happier. To learn more about mindfulness meditation you can read this. I often personally and professionally use a free audio website located here. Using meditation can help you to be ‘present’ and ‘in the moment’. I sense that this encourages one to luxuriate in one’s own true universal significance and purpose.
3. Materials have an Expiration Date
True story: I dropped my phone in the toilet. I’m not alone in having done that, I’m sure (as I’ve googled it) and my poor dear Android was sunk. I had to get a new phone and dutifully headed to the cell phone store to find a replacement. I loved my Android and had always been happy with the photos and experience. Yet, there was something telling me that perhaps I should get an iPhone. The NEWEST and BEST iPhone. Perhaps there was something about owning one of those that everyone but me understood. Like – it represented something about me I wouldn’t even have to tell people. They would see it and understand. I would be an iPhone owner. I could finally be a part of the ‘iPhone club’. I could be one of THEM!
Soon after – I regretted my decision. I don’t like it nearly as much. The photos aren’t as good. It’s not as big, AND on top of that, it cost a lot more money which I am paying off. This iPhone doesn’t say anything to anyone about me or what I stand for at all. The only pleasure it offers me is when I get a text from my bestie, or someone comments positively about the picture of the Wolf fish I made the night before and posted to Facebook. And that’s all. Nothing more. What I’m left with is a bigger bill.
4. Clarify Your Core Values
“Core values serve as a lighthouse when the fog of life seems to leave you wandering in circles.” J. Norris
When one’s core values aren’t defined – it naturally follows suit that one will feel pressured to make important decisions based on social ‘obligations’, or on others’ expectations of what you SHOULD do. Being detached from your ‘inner compass’ can leave you feeling hollow, absent, bitter, and inadequate. In that state it is more likely that you will want to fill that hole. Material goods can temporarily relieve this state of bleakness, though, not for long.
Defining these values can enhance your confidence, help you make more positive & life affirming choices, can boost your sense of purpose, and can also clarify and simplify your life. Once your values are defined – your ‘inner compass’ is more accessible and integrity follows. Integrity is the unification between your values and your actions.
Here is an article which I feel does an excellent job of helping you work on defining your values.
5. Unconditionally Love Thyself
Remember the singer Jewel? She had this great line in her song, “Who will save your soul?” a while back, and a line in the song goes:
“People living their lives for you on TV – they say they’re better than you and you agree.” – Jewel
I think the media does a great job of reinforcing the erroneous standards of what success means, what successful people look like, how they smell, and where they go on vacation.
The media does an excellent job at showing you what you don’t have, and that to BE something BETTER you must have the latest car, and your kid needs this specific gizmo to fit in at school or in the neighborhood! And if you don’t have these things you will be an outsider, a reject, a loser, and you won’t be invited to backyard pool parties. And enough people buy into this – that it then becomes a fallacy understood as a truth by most.
If you don’t love yourself all that much – these messages are likely to creep into the cracks of your inner compass and mess up your navigation. So, self-esteem is intertwined with one’s core values.
- The more whole you feel, the smaller the hole will feel…
- … the less you need to fill it with “stuff”
- … and the more you can fill it with novel experiences, tiny pleasures, and meaning, with no expiration date.
This is not to say that you shouldn’t ever treat yourself to luxuries. We all enjoy comforts which we don’t necessarily need to survive. However, so many people in search of satisfaction are reaching into their wallets to buy it, and find that after a while of this, they don’t get any. Yet they continue to reach again, and again, and again. That’s what I’m talking about.
If you feel you might need some assistance developing your core values and improving your self-esteem, counseling can be an excellent workspace.