Affluenza – How to be successful and stay sane by Oliver James

I’ve recently finished another interesting book by Olivier James. This one is about how many of us these days, and our society, are affected by what he calls the Affluenza virus, which he defines as “a set of (life) values which increase our vulnerability to emotional distress. It entails placing high value on acquiring money and possessions, looking good in the eye of others and wanting to be famous (or socially recognised).

The book is split in three parts. The first two, The Virus and The Vaccines, are based on analysis, studies and interviews that the author carried out in different world areas and societies. The comparisons there between East and West are interesting. In the last part, Wakey Wakey, the author gives a more personal approach into the subject.


I guess the best way of summarising what I took from the book is going through what James considers to be the best vaccines against the Affluenza virus.

Replace virus motives (with intrinsic ones)

Virus motives are those dominated by money, fame, possessions, status, having and wanting…  those are never ending and that is why they can easily lead us to dissatisfaction. James suggests not aiming to simply achieve those in life as our end goal, but to focus on what we enjoy, what makes us happy, and give our 100%.

It is often the case that good work and passion leads to success – and often passionate entrepreneurs end up in successful and profitable business. The author clarifies that there is nothing wrong with that. The problem is not being rich and famous, but to seek richness and fame as such. Focus on what you enjoy (intrinsic motives) and try not to obsess about status, likes, or how many zeros follow your business deals.

Be beautiful (not attractive)

Beauty and sexiness is something over-rated in our societies. Such unrealistic standards lead us (especially women) to avoid (or being uncomfortable with) the signs of aging. And even worse, these virus expectations lead young and perfectly pretty girls to obsess about their looks, suffer eating disorders or end up having botox in their 20s!

Run away from the beauty obsession – looking our best with what we have is one thing, but hating ourselves for what we are is another very different. Love, accept, respect and take care of your body as you are going to living in it for your entire life.

Consume what you need (not what advertisers want you to want)

Ask yourself, how many of your wish list items do you actually really need? James gives us a clear example here with the never-ending house work. You already got a house (maybe more expensive of what you can comfortably afford), but that is not enough and you keep wanting to upgrade and extend it, stressing yourself out and spending thousands of (unnecessary pounds) on the way. The same happens with many other things we want, and the author invites us to think and ask ourselves, is it a want or a need?

Meet your children needs (not those of little adults)

The book criticises the pressure that many parents put on their children to over-achieve and do all those things that they could not do. This tendency come with the risk of traumatising the kinds, making them feel like a failure.

The danger is especially higher in girls, says the author. The expectations to be perfect and behave perfectly can lead them to live a life that is not theirs, but the one that pleases others. That involves high levels of stress and feelings of “not being enough”, that would damage their emotional health. Therefore, James advises to be very careful when rising our children – make sure we encourage their own strengths and congratulate them for their achievements, valuing the work and effort involves, instead of the result.

Enjoy motherhood (not desperate housewifery/househousebandry)

In this chapter, the author compares at length the different ways of experience parenthood in different countries. One of the main conclusions I took from it is the importance for mothers to enjoy motherhood. This means doing what they feel it’s best for them and what would make them happier, and therefore, better mothers. If working is required for them to feel better, so will be it. In contrast, if the are happiest at home and can afford it, that would be the best choice for them.

The author says that what helps is for both parents to collaborate and share the weight of childcare and housework. In terms of the children, James empathises the importance of not changing constantly from carer to carer, especially if they are under three. He says that mother-father care is best, but if that is not possible, providing a responsive and dedicated nanny would provide a better care and attachment than either a busy nursery, or being left with strangers a bit too often.

Be authentic (not sincere), vivacious (not hyperactive) and playful (not game-playing)

This is the last piece of advice given by the author, where he asks us to prioritise authenticity, vivacity and playfulness. That means to be true to ourselves and our feelings; live on the present and enjoy every day, without falling into an hyperactive-type of busyness; and use the sense of humor and a young spirit as a way to go through life, as opposed to playing with other and using them for our benefit.

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