Simcha Feuerman
Psychology, Torah and the Daf Yomi

Affluenza Nazir 29 Psychology of the Daf Yomi

Our Gemara on Amud Aleph discusses a possible reason that the rabbis granted a father rights to declare his minor son a Nazir. The rabbis subsumed this under the general obligation of chinuch, the rabbinic directive to accustom a child in the practice of mitzvos. The Maharitz Chayes raises the following question:

“We are aware that the idea of the mitzvah of Chinuch is to gradually accustom a child to his obligations so that he not be suddenly burdened with all his obligations after becoming a godol…since being a Nazir is not anything he is obligated in, nor something he may ever become, how is it a mitzvah of Chinuch to train him in Nazirhood? …Perhaps the answer is that the Chinuch mitzvah in our Gemara is not Nazirhood per se, but rather the idea of becoming accustomed to less materialism, and to be satisfied with a minimum.

In today’s culture, the media promotes consumerism and promises happiness via fulfillment of various gratifications, usually fame and money. Even those growing up in not particularly wealthy families are accustomed to a lifestyle that is unlike most experiences in human history. Almost anything one desires is one click away. Parents have a holy obligation to monitor their children’s indulgences, and to teach them to be satisfied with simple comforts, as well as learning to earn and work for themselves. Some parents might feel uneasy depriving a child of something that they technically can afford; it could feel mean-spirited. Of course, as with any discipline, it should be communicated with respect and kindness, and not overly charged with emotion. The fact is, people are happiest when they have a balance between working toward something and then receiving it. When people do not have to work, they feel irritable, angry and listless, even when objectively engaged in hedonistic pleasures.

According to Oliver James (2007,“Affluenza: How to Be Successful and Stay Sane.” Vermilion):

The problem gets even more aggravated when the parents give privileges without demanding performance. Lost in the pursuit of earning more and more, money is considered the elucidation for all of our problems; failing to understand that the excess of everything is bad. This disposition of placing a high value on acquiring money and possessions, looking good in the eyes of others and wanting to be famous is called Affluenza.

According to Dr. Mamta Sharma (“Affluenza: Happiness Lost!”, International Journal of English language, literature in humanities, Vol III: Issue IX, November 2015):

Affluenza, a term coined to describe an epidemic of over-consumption and its often negative effects on children-alienation, laziness, arrogance and low self-esteem, is not merely a hypothetical problem, but in fact is an ailment of the wealthy, and a disorder among parents and children across all socio-economic and cultural backgrounds. Affluenzais defined as the bloated, sluggish and unfulfilled feeling that result from efforts to keep up with the Joneses; and an epidemic of stress, overwork, waste and indebtedness caused by dogged pursuit of the American Dream.

People characterized by affluenza have developed the false sense of entitlement as well as an inability to delay gratification. Far from guaranteeing happiness, wealth or the single-minded pursuit of affluenza can destroy happiness, or at the least exacerbate existing problems. Once basic physical needs are taken care of (i.e., a person has enough to eat, adequate shelter and basic clothing) most returns to happiness come from social and psychological sources. Enjoying rich personal relationships and finding a deeper sense of purpose in one‘s life is much more likely to cultivate happiness than simply being upwardly mobile (Hunter J., 2002).

Affluent youth develop an inappropriate sense of entitlement and happiness regarding material possessions and opportunities, without a corresponding sense that such benefits must be related to hard work. They deny and ignore the effects of chronic social conditions on the personal and collective realities.

According to the above researchers, in their study conducted with 200 college students aged 18-24:

[There were] statistically significant differences between affluent and non-affluent on happiness level. Non affluent youth have more happiness level, as compared to affluent youth, based on administration of the “Oxford Happiness Questionnaire.

Though it is inadvisable to declare your children as Nazirs, the idea of mindfully cultivating an attitude of responsibility, and specifically making do with less, is a worthy aspect of Chinuch. I do not think it is as simple as depriving children of material benefits. I believe it must be part of an approach that encourages independence and hard work, to learn through experience, that greater happiness and satisfaction comes from feeling accomplished and taking on age-appropriate tasks and responsibilities. Just as an example as we near the Pesach season, how many children today really participate in cleaning for Pesach?  Even in homes where families do not go to hotels, so much of the cleaning and preparation gets assigned to the domestic help.  It is good for children to participate in Pesach cleaning and take on certain chores.  If parents introduce these expectations with respect and a degree of flexibility, the laws of human nature indicate that it will enhance appreciation for Pesach and enjoyment of the Yom Tov.

About the Author
Rabbi, Psychotherapist with 30 years experience specializing in high conflict couples and families.
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