Out of the Woods / Suffering from 'affluenza"™
Published 1:01 am, Wednesday, July 7, 2010
In his latest book, John Robbins of the Baskin-Robbins ice cream dynasty, writes about why he personally dropped out of the rat race of materialism. He defines "affluenza" as "a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more." According to a write-up in the latest issue of Time magazine, Robbins' solution is to concentrate on money -- but in a far different way than most of us are doing today. He argues that we should rethink our "entire relationship with money" by becoming much more aware of the choices we have in what we do with our money. By concentrating on what we spend money on, he says, we will be much more effective in the priorities we set for how we spend it.
"Affluenza" is not a brand new term in the lexicon of American economic terminology.
It's been around for awhile. What makes Robbins' story so compelling is that he actually did change his lifestyle by not going into the "family business" but instead to "live a far more simple and earth-friendly life." In his book, The New Good Life, he shares with us how he made the choice with his wife to live far more modestly than he had been by building a small one-room cabin on an island off the coast of British Columbia, where they became self-sustaining by growing most of their own food. "This isn't about deprivation," he wrote. "It's about choice and self-determination."
Meanwhile, some other imaginative people are finding extraordinary ways to drop out of the rat race of materialism and take control of their own lives. For example, Westporter Doug Hopkins, his wife Kyle, and their two daughters, Abigail, now 12, and Eliza, now 15 (featured in a story by reporter Kirk Lang in this newspaper last Wednesday, June 30) recently returned from a six-and-a-half year journey on their West Sail 32-foot sailboat after circumnavigating the globe.
The around-the-world trip, which included spending weeks and months in 27 different countries -- mostly in New Zealand, Australia, Mayalasia, South Africa and Brazil -- had been a childhood dream of Doug's.
The couple sold their home and their car in Woodstock, N.Y., to pay for the lengthy voyage. After their safe return, both have accepted teaching jobs in Buffalo, N.Y. Their daughters will be attending the Buffalo Seminary, an all-girls independent high school.
"It became pretty obvious to us that our calling was teaching," Kyle was quoted as saying. "We've seen what education can do around the world and also we've been where there is a lack of education, what can happen."
Doug had given up a law practice and Kyle was a an actress and singer prior to the trip.
The couple home-schooled both of their girls during the long trip, which also took them to Laos, Thailand, Fiji. Madagascar, Laos, the Galapagos Islands, Indonesia, Botswana, Namibia, Bermuda and the Bahamas. They did such a good job of boat-schooling their children that, upon their return both tested in the 99 percentile on their entrance exams to school.
Of course, the Hopkins had a long-range "safety net" -- contact with from Westport in the personages of their stepfather, Roy Dickinson, and Doug's mother, Betsy Dickinson, who regularly stayed in touch with them every day, either via their journal entries, sail mail which is done by radio, or by e-mail.
When the couple and their daughters were on land they did not talk to the Dickinsons in Westport every single day. Roy Dickinson said he never really was worried about the family's safety, except for a brief period of time when the alarm accidently went off (and a distress signal sent out). The scare was short-lived, however, and except for that one incident, everything went smoothly.
Full disclosure: The Dickinsons have been personal friends of my wife's and mine for a long time. About a year ago when they mentioned that Betsy's son was sailing around the world, I recall thinking that must be quite an experience, but I thought no more about it. It was only after their return and the story in this newspaper that I realized what a lesson the Hopkins family has taught all of us!
Who else among us can say that we have measured our lives carefully and made a decision to do something daring -- to break loose, to leave behind the life of affluent conformity and the tension-filled pursuit of more and more money behind us? Very few, I would think. My hat's off to the Hopkins for taking on a once-in a-lifetime adventure that most of us would probably be very hesitant to undertake.
The Hopkins family, obviously, had been wary of being trapped into a lifestyle that is based on how much and how many things people can accumulate in the ever-present pursuit of material gain. They did us all a service by making us think twice about how we define happiness and what we need to do to find it. They are taking the path less traveled. I admire them for their courage and for their escape from the pressures of the high-wire pursuit of affluenza.