The Joy of Giving week is being celebrated across the country from 27th September to 3rd October 2009. A perfect antidote for the Affluenza virus that has been slowly gnawing at our roots. I know you might be wondering what is this new virus I’m on about. I would not be exaggerating if I tell you that this virus is much more deadly that the swine flu that everybody has been panicking about big time!

Oliver James (2006), a renowned UK psychologist has talked about Affluenza, a virus which according to him is creating a global epidemic of depression, anxiety and addictions. According to him this toxic, erosive envy is at the root of general dysphoria that plagues people’s daily lives. “If you have it flaunt it” might be the mantra of the so called successful but it is slowly chewing them up from within as they desperately try to keep in pace with the rat race. Fastening the speed of the “hedonic treadmill” by bigger homes, flashier cars, and luxurious holidays abroad might only work as a quick fix and give an artificial high before the misery seeps in again. Studies have shown that lottery winners experience a period of elation for sometime but soon settle down to their usual satisfaction level after one year.

Avner Offer, Professor of Economic History, University of Oxford, in his book, The Challenge of Affluence (2006), talks about this obsessive desire for status and goods as a meaningless pursuit for well being. “The Worried Well” as the middle class is termed, is no more about keeping up with the Sharmas down the street but with the top celebrities whose lives they follow so voyeuristically. In a society where every person can hope to be on Page 3 and have their 15 minutes of fame, constant sense of dissatisfaction and anomie is a small price to pay.

We are living in an “affluenzad” society which lives to earn more, want more and spend. Then I wonder why do we get so exasperated at our children with their growing demands for branded clothes, mobiles, X boxes, Wii and what have you!

Before you get alarmed, let me reassure you that in no way am I promoting Gandhigiri (though the idea is immensely appealing). However, according to Martin Seligman, the pioneer of “positive psychology” pleasure is short lived and superficial but sense of gratification you get if you perform an act of kindness can give you a sense of lasting satisfaction and feeling of harmony with nature.

After all, happiness is not about having what you want but wanting what you have. So go ahead and give generously in the Joy of Giving week. Go beyond the week and make it a commitment for life. I was so happy to hear how my children’s school (The Shri Ram School) is getting actively involved in it. I can only end this with a reflective line from one of my favourite oldies, Jethro Tull, “Its only the giving that makes you, what you are”.

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