Posted by on Nov 9, 2015 Views: 5475

Affluenza: A New Disease of the Rich In Era of Inequality

Some people are calling this “affluenza”.  It’s a condition that afflicts rich people and makes them selfish, unhappy, and obsessed with making more money.  

Now there’s data that this is real, and money changes how your brain is wired, according to Michael Lewis, in his article “What Wealth Does To Your Soul”.

There’s one way to counter affluenza – though philanthropy, giving and spending money on others.  

Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems

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“What is clear about rich people and their money — and becoming ever clearer”  Lewis writes, “is how it changes them.”

Money Makes You Selfish

A UC Berkeley study, for instance, found that “people driving more expensive cars were four times more likely to cut in front of other drivers than drivers in cheap cars.” While the drivers in cheap cars “respected pedestrians’ right of way,” the drivers of more expensive cars “ignored the pedestrians 46.2 percent of the time.”

Another Berkeley study is even more telling. The “subjects passed a big jar of candy” on their way out of the lab. “The richer the person, the more likely he was to reach in and take candy from the jar — and ignore the big sign on the jar that said the candy was for” children.

Talk about stealing candy from a baby.

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These studies seem to go against a traditional view of behavior. After all, don’t poor people have a greater incentive to lie and cheat?

Even though there is a greater incentive for lying, it was another study’s “wealthy participants who were far more likely to lie for the chance of winning fifty bucks.”  And yet another study found that “the rich were more likely to shoplift than the poor.” And another found that people that people with lower incomes donate relatively more than their richer counterparts.

Money Actually Changes Your Neurons In Your Brain

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“If you show rich people and poor people pictures of kids with cancer,” says UCLA neuroscientist Keely Muscatell, “the poor people’s brains exhibit a great deal more activity than the rich people’s.”   Wealth actually “quiets the nerves in the brain associated with empathy.”

Making more money, in other words, makes someone less able to understand another person’s feelings.

According to Lewis, it’s not that the kind of people that become rich tend to be more selfish than others. “The problem,” he says, “is caused by the inequality itself: It triggers a chemical reaction in the privileged few” and “causes them to be less likely to care about anyone but themselves or to experience the moral sentiments needed to be a decent citizen.”

Money Doesn’t Buy Happiness


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“A rich person getting even richer,” as Lewis points out, “experiences zero gain in happiness.” When surveyed, however, some rich people reported “they needed two to three times more than they had to feel happier.”

This seems like a vicious cycle: as you get richer, you become less happy; to get happier, you want to get even richer.

Your Secret Weapon To Combat Affluenza

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The secret to being happy and rich is to spend your money on others.  If you want to be happier, dedicate your money to others.  Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton’s book Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending explains this further through an experiment where people were randomly given $5 and were told to either spend it on themselves, or to spend it on a charity or someone else. The latter group, who spent their $5 on someone else or a charity, were significantly happier at the end of the day.

The moral of the story:  Looking for happiness? Spend some of your piggy bank on others.

Combat affluenza by giving to some worthy nonprofits:

Room to Read: This organization benefits young girls globally by helping them receive the best gift– an education.

La Casa De Las Madres: A nonprofit that helps victims of domestic violence while educating the public about domestic abuse.

The Coming Home Project: The Coming Home Project is a non-profit organization devoted to providing compassionate expert care, support, education, and stress management tools for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, service members, their families, and their service providers.

Find a cause you’re passionate about at!

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