By Lisa Rosenlund,
Saint Brendan Parish Manager
It’s flu season, which means that it’s time to get vaccinated against whatever strain(s) of flu are likely to strike this year. I’m a big believer in flu shots and always opt for the quadrivalent vaccine, which protects against four different flu viruses. Would that we could also get inoculated each year against another debilitating disease called “affluenza.”
The term “affluenza,” which is a merging of the words “affluence” and “influenza,” is now a recognized word in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, which defines the syndrome as an “extreme materialism and consumerism associated with the pursuit of wealth and success and resulting in a life of chronic dissatisfaction, debt, overwork, stress, and impaired relationships.” The term originated as the title of a 1997 PBS documentary and 2001 follow-up book and became entrenched in the lexicon when teenager Ethan Couch asserted it as a defense in his 2013 drunk driving trial.
If affluenza is a disease, all Americans have been exposed to it. Although the term “Black Friday” was not coined until the 1960s, the Friday after Thanksgiving has been known in the United States as the unofficial start to the Christmas shopping season, at least since the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade first began in 1924. As holiday shopping began to move online, marketers later created “Cyber Monday” in 2005.
Whether we prefer to brave the crowds on Black Friday or shop from the comfort of our own homes on Cyber Monday, it has become a national tradition that much of the time during the weekend after Thanksgiving will be spent purchasing the “must have” toys, electronics, and fashions of the season.
The not-so-subtle cultural message we and our children receive from marketers is that, however much we have, we all need more. As Donna Bee-Gates explains in her book, I Want It Now, exposure to media images depicting lifestyles more lavish than our own, causes us to experience “relative deprivation.” As a result, we feel disadvantaged compared to the fictional people we observe in the advertisements, which then causes us to take our own material blessings for granted.
Fortunately, there’s an antidote to affluenza, and that is gratitude. When we are grateful, instead of looking at fictional people and feeling deprived, we are able to look at real people and feel blessed. From that position of gratitude, we can focus on what others don’t have, instead of what we don’t have.
In 2012, a global giving movement was started, called “Giving Tuesday,” which kicks off the holiday and end-of-year charitable season after the excesses of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. In keeping with the spirit of this special day, I’ve set up a Giving Tuesday fund. Donations can be made through online giving or you can text (415) 767-1934, and enter the amount of the donation, a space and the code GIVINGTUESDAY. You can also drop off your donation at the church office with a notation that it is for the Giving Tuesday fund.
Let’s spiritually inoculate ourselves against affluenza with gratitude and celebrate the season with a true spirit of Christmas!
Saint Brendan Church in San Francisco. Check out our exciting featured news articles.