Do you feel like you are always in a hurry? Given a choice between a slight pay raise and a shorter work week, would you choose the money? Do you ever use shopping as “therapy”? Do you feel “used-up” at the end of your workday? These are just some of the questions on the “affluenza self-diagnosis” test designed by John de Graaf, David Wann and Thomas H. Naylor to help readers of their hard-hitting Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic determine whether they are suffering from a deadly social disease they define as “a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more.”

If you answered “yes” to these questions, you’ve got definite symptoms of affluenza, which, the authors argue, stems from America’s almost unquestioning worship of economic expansion.

Doing business, making money, working harder than hard; these things are as American as mom and apple pie. And reaping the material rewards of work well done – the palatial home, the fancy cars, the clothes, the vacations, the pool, the prestige and the infinite power to acquire more and more stuff – these things have replaced mom and apple pie as the markers of modern American happiness.

So argues Affluenza, a riveting, terrifying and inspiring analysis of what ails contemporary America. A follow-up to the recent PBS special of the same name, Affluenza begins with the symptoms, moves on to explain what they mean and concludes with advice about what we can do to save our failing health, our flagging economy and the earth we are almost single-handedly destroying.

The list of affluenza symptoms is long. Here are some of the most prominent ones:

Shopping fever: We have twice as many shopping centers as high schools, the authors point out, and more of us visit shopping malls each week than go to church. We shop for entertainment, for therapy and even for vacation: Shopping centers are outpacing national parks as holiday destinations.

Swollen expectations: Our sense of what we “need” to live comfortably has expanded far beyond either our earning power or the earth’s ability to accommodate us. Since World War II, the average home has grown from 750 square feet to 2300. In many of these homes, the garage space alone exceeds the size of an entire 1950s starter home. There are more cars than drivers in the U.S., and despite all the extra living space, the storage business is booming. Forty times larger than it was during the 1960s, the $12 billion industry is larger than the American music industry. The more we can imagine having, the more we believe we need.

Rash of bankruptcies: We have a higher rate of bankruptcy today than we did during the Great Depression, even though Americans work more hours than citizens of any other country.

Chronic ache for meaning: As a nation, we are depressed, divorced, in debt, overweight and overwhelmed. We seek solace in food, sex, shopping and TV; we neglect our bodies, our families, our communities and our environment. Child suicide rates have tripled since the 1960s.

The list of symptoms goes on and on, and it speaks eloquently to the spiritual and economic disorder at the heart of modern American culture. It speaks, too, to the essential ‘connectedness’ of the spiritual malaise and economic madness of life in an all-consuming America.

“Unlimited wealth is great poverty,” Aristotle wrote. Mother Teresa echoed this sentiment when she called the U.S. “the poorest place I’ve ever been in my life.”

The authors have a knack for statistics, and they use them beautifully to demonstrate the harsh economic realities, the greed and the confusion underpinning American ways. Approximately 84% of us say the U.S. economy is doing well, but 40% of us have trouble paying our bills. Ten million Americans go hungry every day, but nine million own a second home.

The top 20% of American households earn as much as the bottom 80% combined. Since World War II, U.S. consumption has doubled, working hours have risen steadily and depression rates have increased tenfold. A world with numbers like these is a world that doesn’t make sense, the authors contend.

It is also a world that has to change – and fast.

It’s not just that money doesn’t buy happiness, or that America’s wealth is staggeringly ill-distributed, the authors argue, but that the mentality that associates success – not to mention survival – with hard work and ever-increasing earning potential is itself misguided. It ruins people, who need a lot more down time than they get. It ruins families, who increasingly prefer plugging in to interacting. It ruins communities as neighborhoods turn into barred, deadbolted, wary populations of strangers. And it ruins the environment as the earth is trashed to meet the excessive demands of American consumers, who annually outspend all other nations, and who have, since 1950, used up more resources than everyone who has ever lived put together.

The cure for affluenza thus begins – like all good cures – with rest. What people need is not more money, but more time; not more expensive stuff, but more meaningful contact with one another. Noting that early in the twentieth century a six-hour day was implemented with fabulous success by such progressive innovators as cereal magnate A.K. Kellogg, the authors stress that the difference between a six-hour day and an eight-hour day is the difference between energetic, happy people with time to develop their personalities, interests and relationships and exhausted, harried people who are always racing, always tense, never satisfied, never done.

They stress, too, that Americans can find the happiness they are looking for – as well as the health they are losing – simply by simplifying their lives. Living, they stress, is not itself expensive. It’s the rat race, with its long hours, its crushing pace, its profligacy, and its monotony, that is costly. The solution is to cut back on the one hand, and live more creatively on the other.

Streamlining possessions; purifying diet; minimizing consumption; redefining “need” along spiritual, rather than material, lines; redefining “entertainment” along more social, less consumerist lines; rethinking “work” as what one does to live rather than what one lives to do, and adjusting career paths to reflect these value shifts are all aspects of “voluntary simplicity,” the grassroots movement the authors say is slowly taking hold of Americans who realize that getting more out of life will come from working, and having, less. “The more real wealth we have – such as friends, skills, libraries, wilderness and afternoon nap – the less money we need in order to be happy.”

Affluenza is a timely and provocative manifesto. The idea that serious economic slowdown would be good for America may seem to border on the heretical. But the authors convincingly show that the reason for this lies in the devastatingly short-sighted belief that progress lies in constant economic growth, ever-increasing consumer spending and a standard of living whose “improvement” may be measured in the financial terms of buying power and income rather than spiritual ones such as contentment, strong family ties and stable, supportive communities.

With its suggestion that neither jobs, nor money, nor goods are the route to fulfillment, Affluenza poses an especially strong challenge to a corporate sector whose livelihood depends on people’s literal and figurative willingness to “buy in.” At $24.95 apiece, however, readers might want to take the authors’ conservationist advice to heart, and recycle Affluenza among their friends.