Affluence and Wellbeing

Going back over some old Review articles and came across a quote I had circled. It’s from Avner Offer’s book The Challenge of Affluence which has as its first sentence:

Affluence breeds impatience, and impatience undermines wellbeing.

His premise is that increasing affluence has resulted in increased short-term pleasure seeking behaviours – a form of myopia that priviliges the present over the future.  Advertising further pushes us down the path of the hedonistic treadmill, reducing sincerity and trust. 

His advice is to have more prudence, to balance immediate pleasures with sacrifices that benefit long-term wellbeing (such as study, relationship-building, saving) and build self-control.  There are strong links here to obesity, divorce rates and lack of savings. Moderation needs to be given greater weight than increasing choice.

The public sector has a strong role to play here – to help build the policy and institutional structures that support self-control, such as forced savings, financial education, banning certain types of advertising (such as junk food for kids) and actions for community development. This role is becoming more critical as innovation continues apace leading to greater novelty, increased impatience and the merrygoround of reduced wellbeing continues.

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