Books, life the universe

Friday, 16 March 2007


I have finally digested Oliver James' latest book - 'Affluenza'. Definitely thought provoking and it certainly made me consider my spending habits seriously. He interviewed people from several different countries - Britain, America, New Zealand, Australia, Denmark, China and Singapore. He came to the conclusion that people were happiest in Denmark where it is bad manners to diplay your wealth by conspicuous consumption. In Denmark there is a much smaller gap between rich and poor in any case; household chores are shared relatively equally between men and women and there is no long hours culture. People are not ruled by our materialist gods and are almost impervious to advertising. What you own is secondary to what sort of a person you are.

What came over loud and clear from the whole book is that chasing after material goods will not make you a better person or a happier person. Those who live the happiest and most fulfilled lives are those who work hard enough to supply their basic needs - adequate food shelter and warmth - and who feel they ae part of a community and a family.

The most vital aspect of happiness seeems to be the ability to distinguish between material desires which are needs rather than wants. For example - a roof over my head may be necessary but a 12 bedroomed mansion at the end of a mile long drive is no better at fulfilling this need than a 2 up 2 down terraceed house unless I am providing a home to a large self-sufficient commune with security risks!

I think I was most struck by James' interviews with a middle class Chinese couple who were basically hot housing their small child. He had to learn Japanese, music and painting as well as go to school! From reading the papers and talking to people in the UK it seems that bringing up childdren is very similar in this counrtry in certain strata of society. Do children need to be stuffed full of knowledge rather than allowed to spend their free time doing what they want? Do we turn out better citizens this way? Or is this more about the parents' needs and desires?

The main point of the book was the very old fashioned idea that money can't buy you happiness. This was brought home to me by the single man in New York who had inherited a fortune and made himself another one. He seemed a very discontented person whose only interest was in what he could buy with his money. He couldnt understand why his relationships with women lasted no more than a few dates. Either he got bored or the women ditched him because of his totally un-caring attitude. He knew he was missing something but couldn't understand what. He didn't seem to have any close male friends either. Because money could buy him anything he wanted he'd forgotten that life is a system of give and take and compromises.

The pursuit of money and material goods was not condemned as such but there has to be more in life than this. The ability to enjoy things for their own sake is more important. Humour, vivacity and not taking life or oneself too seriously seemed to be the key to happiness and contentment. You could be rich and still have a fulfilled life but if you were accumulating money and possessions in order to show the world what a successful person you were then this could never lead to contentment or a fulfilled life.

Current reading is 'Why do people get ill?