THE BLOG
01/22/2014 05:28 pm ET Updated Mar 24, 2014

Coping With Contagious Affluenza: Mindful Consumption

Our society is suffering from an ever-increasing epidemic, caused by an addiction to the consumption of products, food, and resources. Symptoms may include stress, burnout, a sense of entitlement, a lack of fulfillment, and a depletion of resources. Appropriately coined "affluenza," the disease is defined as a "socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste, resulting from the dogged pursuit of more." Although it's not your typical virus, there's no doubt that it is contagious.

We have developed into a society of insatiable consumers, obsessed with having it all. Shopping is a top favorite pastime, and online marketplaces provide the opportunity to do so around the clock. With technologies improving at record speeds, waste has become the norm, as it often costs more to get a repair than to buy the newest model. As we're busy searching for the next best thing, advertisers and manufacturers see us coming, promoting the idea that purchasing products will fulfill an array of desires such as happiness, success, acceptance, status, security, and power. At its most extreme, this concept manifests itself as "wealth addiction," where top-grossing Wall Street executives admit to dissatisfaction with a 3.6 million dollar year-end bonus. Even as the divide between the impoverished and extremely rich continues to grow, "more" has become the mantra -- one that is clearly visible in our habits and expectations.

The same is true for food. We face an obesity pandemic, partially attributed to the seemingly endless supply of hyper-palatable food and drinks, coupled with advertising that propels overconsumption (think "super-sized" and "more for your money") into a social norm. We can buy food anywhere and at any time. Cravings are satisfied with instant gratification, and often in excess. Most food producers happily supply our demands, knowing that highly processed foods loaded with salt, sugar, or fat can get us to overeat and at the same time, make us pay little attention to the deleterious effects of high meat consumption on our environment and natural resources.

Overconsumption of products, food, and resources might be the most tangible manifestations of affluenza, but the "more is better" mentality is far more insidious. What are you doing at this moment? Are you only reading this sentence, or are you checking email, texting, listening to music, or eating at the same time? We have become over-consumers of time itself, multitasking during every waking minute, leading to stress, distraction, or even boredom when we're 'forced' to focus on a single task. Even in social settings, rather than giving our full attention to others physically present, we periodically shift our attention to social media on our mobile devices, being hyper-vigilant as to what is taking place elsewhere.

Do we really need all this stuff? Why are we eating so much? Why can't we focus on what's happening right now? The symptoms and effects of affluenza are plentiful, but there is good news -- relief is possible, and it can be put into action right away. Rather than consuming on an autopilot fast-track, we need to slow down, stop and think -- we need to consume mindfully.

If you're ready to reflect on your own habits, here are some tips to help you make the conscious shift from "more is better" to "less is more:"

End the cycle of buy-discard-repeat: Impulse shopping feeds our ingrained expectations of instant gratification. Before you buy, ask yourself if you really want it, and if you really need it. Let some time pass after the initial urge, and ask yourself again. If you still are interested in buying, chances are that when you do, you will enjoy your purchase much more.

Reduce your clutter: Begin with your work space. What can you eliminate from your desktop or your drawers? Move into other areas of your home, recycling or up-cycling possessions that you no longer need. The physical act of weeding out will begin to translate into a habit.

Choose your food mindfully: Look deeply at your cravings. When you hear yourself say "I want this," ask yourself if you really do. If the answer is yes, transition from desire and reflect on the food. Is it the best choice for you? For the health of our planet? When you indulge, try doing so in moderation. Know the source of what you are putting into your body, and feel good when you nourish yourself with food that was cultivated with sustainable practices.

When you eat, only eat: You may not be able to do so at all or any of your meals right away, but try it on a small scale with a snack. Rather than sitting at your desk, snacking while you send emails or do your work, turn off the computer screen and take the time to truly enjoy what you are eating.

Learn to disengage digitally: Switch the gaze from your screen and offer your full attention to those that are physically present -- be it a friend, family member, coworker, or cashier. You will find that people really appreciate your true presence!