Is Life Too Good? I've had a long and troubled relationship with National Public Radio, mostly because -- surprise, surprise -- of how it deals with Israel-related news. But I've never had anything but admiration for its business feature called "Marketplace." And the staff has outdone itself with its series called "Consumed," which has been a multilayered look at the American love of spending and buying.
The 20-some segments so far have looked at issues like "Feeding America's consumer appetite," "What hungry consumerism leaves behind" and "Turning trash into cash."
An incisive and eye-opening broadcast was an interview with UCLA researcher Dr. Peter Whybrow, author of American Mania: When More Is Not Enough. The general theme of the discussion, led by "Marketplace" reporter Scott Jagow, was that "America's consumer economy may be a symptom of a bigger illness" -- and that illness could, in fact, be "killing us all." As a species, Whybrow argued, "we simply don't know what to do with all this excess." Not too surprisingly, Whybrow studies neuroscience and human behavior.
Jagow began by saying that he's heard of people who shop "literally every single day," and he asked his guest to explain this form of behavior.
"What it basically points out is that we have a frenzy around certain material things that we just can't do without in our lives," said Whybrow. "So we've moved from need to desire to craving, basically. We grew up in scarcity -- we evolved in scarcity, that is -- so, in fact, most of us don't know what to do with abundance."
According to Whybrow, over the last 20 years, things have really sped up in all sectors of society. "Suddenly," he said, "there was a fast new world in which everybody could work all day and all night. You [meaning the reporter, Scott Jagow] spend all night here working for the morning program ... And you do that because the world is still going on while the rest of us are asleep. We've essentially taken the brakes off the business cycle in this country, and what that has done is it's brought extraordinary material abundance. And we don't know quite what to do with the stuff."
In Whybrow's opinion, this is a public health issue, since we are pushing ourselves to "our physiological limit."
"You can't do the things we're doing without seeing the predictable outcomes of obesity, Type II diabetes, sleep deprivation, anxiety, depression ... All those things are predictable if you live a life where you're constantly at the edge."
The researcher said that he considers the condition a real mania, and what happens in mania "is first, people are very happy and they seem to be extraordinarily engaged. And then slowly, everything begins to fall apart as they become completely driven by this growing physical and mental derangement. And so it's almost as if we've gone beyond happiness."