h1

Recession is a healer

September 8, 2009

family-having-fun

Following on from my Meaning of Life blogs, here’s an article by psychologist Oliver James which I could have almost written myself. More syncs too – before I stumbled across this article, I was working on a re-write of one of my earlier blogs which coincidentally includes the line mentioned near the end of this article ‘You may say I’m a dreamer’ – and over the last few days I’ve not only watched a number of documentaries about the Beatles, but yesterday (no pun intended) I also read a magazine article about them which mentions the classic song from which that line originated.

If you’re interested in reading more of Oliver James’ work on this topic, I’d recommend Affluenza and the follow-up The Selfish Capitalist: Origins of Affluenza.  I particularly resonate with the article below as it correlates with my intuitive feelings about the current recession –  namely that the economic collapse, rather than being the catastrophe our media would have us believe,  actually has the potential to free us from our increasingly oppressive/depressive state and the meaningless pursuit of ‘stuff’, which in turn will give us the opportunity to rediscover  what is really important and enjoy true meaning and fulfilment.  Here’s hoping…

Recession is a healer

By Oliver James

The implosion of the global financial system was as unexpected and rapid as the collapse of the Soviet Union. The good news is that we may be about to feel as liberated from oppression as the swarming crowds who celebrated in the eastern bloc in 1989.

The past 30 years have been a shop-till-you-drop, credit-fuelled consumer binge. Almost all of us caught what I term the Affluenza Virus — placing too high a value on money, possessions, appearances (physical and social) and fame. This virus is very bad for mental health. People with the virus are significantly more likely to suffer depression, anxiety and substance abuse (booze and drugs).

But following the collapse of the old financial system in which both individuals and nations lived on the never-never, our Affluenza habit will no longer be affordable. Time for cold turkey. In the short term, as with any addicts cleaning up their act, there will be pain. At the most extreme, as recession bites there will be unemployment, which will be depressing for hundreds of thousands.

For millions of others there will be anxiety about job security. And yet within quite a short time, as our values begin to change, I predict we will start to feel a whole lot better.

When you stop to think about it, you have learnt to confuse real needs with wants: you do not really need an awful lot of what you buy, you want it. A real need is for things like emotional intimacy or to feel emotionally secure; a new flat-screen TV or a conservatory are wants stimulated in us by advertising and the desire to keep up with the Joneses.

Property is at the heart of our confusion of needs and wants. Take kitchens. Many of us have spent tens of thousands on “improving” ours, yet what do we really need from it? A cooker for cooking, a fridge to keep things cold, clean flat surfaces and somewhere to wash up. Likewise, most of us have houses larger than we truly need and have paid beyond what we can afford to live in more prestigious areas.

Enter the credit crunch and a complete reappraisal. Virus-free, we will start counting our blessings. If property prices plummet, we will not care — rather than living in an investment vehicle, homes are vital components of our existence.

We will also rethink our work lives. Nearly all the increase in family income in the past 30 years came from working longer hours and women joining men in the workforce. At last we will see that if you spend less, you do not need to earn so much, so can work less. Those with small children will start thinking twice about working such long hours, or if one partner is made redundant, think: “Actually, let’s just make do with less money and I will enjoy looking after the nippers.”

Affluenza values will be replaced by the pursuit of intrinsic pleasures. Interest, enjoyment and the stimulation of a real challenge will become paramount: things are done for their own sake, not simply to please anyone else. At work you will put promotion prospects and salary rises second to what you find really interesting. You will be like a child absorbed in imaginary play. Wherever possible, you will be looking for work that improves the state of your mind — not just the state of your bank balance or the index of your professional ambitions.

Cutting down on Having, you focus on Being. As you recover from the virus, your brain and body chemistry will rapidly change for the better. You will no longer be jammed in a permanent state of readiness for fight or flight by high levels of the stress hormone cortisol. As you spend more time with your partner, your children and your intimate friends, your levels of the love hormone oxytocin will rise. Levels of the depression chemical serotonin will normalise.

You may say that I’m a dreamer, but I believe there is good reason to believe this version of our future. It is true that the poor are twice as likely to suffer from mental illness as the rich, but a recent British study proved that having a low income or unemployment does not in itself cause psychiatric problems. What was critical was how much a poor person felt themselves to be badly off relative to others — hard proof, as in many other studies, that if you can stop comparing yourself with others, you can be poor and happy.

Long before the credit crisis, downsizing (working fewer hours, seeking less competitive jobs) was already mushrooming among the middle-aged. Surveys reveal that young people are increasingly likely to reject “greed is good” workaholism.

Remember the title of the Christmas No 1 in 2003? It was Mad World. The truth is that we have been living through a crazy time in our history and we always suspected it. We should be grateful that the credit crunch is going to vaccinate us against the consumerist madness and that, nationally and individually, we are going to replace it with authentic personal fulfilment.

Advertisements

3 comments

  1. Terrific article. Thanks for posting.


  2. afluenza…ha!
    now that there’s a brilliant word
    poignant and funny

    Great article and post! You know, the HAPPIEST people I’ve EVER met lived in a dirt-roaded village by the sea in Mexico in a shack made of cardboard and random sheets of currogated metal. The floor of their home was dirt. They owned nothing, AND JUST GLOWED WITH JOY AND GENEROSITY! I have friends who are millionaires many times over who are miserable. Money is fun and brilliant and makes things easier, but happiness has nothing to do with it!

    Thank You and Namaste. 🙂


  3. Thanks, Blissbait 🙂

    I was going to write quite a lengthy reply to this, but on reflection, I think your comment says what I was trying to express far more succinctly. Absolutely spot on, my friend!

    Now, if only we could get the rest of the world to see the light….

    Warmest wishes 🙂



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: