Twenty-Five Good Things That Can Be Bad for You

  1. More Is Not Better

    More Is Not Better

    You can have too much of a good thing. The most obvious things are food and alcohol, an excess of either can make us fat or drunk. But there are other, less tangible things, such as information and medication, that can also negatively impact our quality of life if we consume too much of them. Even at a time of economic hardship for many Americans, the dangers of abundance are very real. We want more because it often confers status (a bigger house, a bigger car, a bigger salary), sates a craving (food, sex, the latest gadget), or promises somehow to make our lives better (education, work, law). If we are unable to achieve these goals, often we feel worse about our lives, equating this inability with a lack of self-worth, which makes us want even more what we don't—or can't—have. Wanting more becomes a vicious cycle, and even when we get what we want, it usually just leaves us wanting the next thing. The ancient Romans, at least before they lost their empire by spending too much time at orgies and circuses, had it right when they extolled moderation as one of the most important virtues. As the playwright Plautus put it: "In everything the middle course is best: All things in excess bring trouble to men." We don't want to let what happened to Rome happen to us.

    Click here to see 25 good things that can be bad for us.
  2. Too Much of a Good Thing: Food

    Too Much of a Good Thing: Food

    Overeating is not isolated to the holidays. Available food in the U.S. has increased for all major food groups since 1970. A report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that from 1971 to 2000, women increased their caloric intake by 22 percent, and men by 7 percent. Many Americans now consume too many foods and beverages high in fats and carbohydrates as well as too few nutrient-dense foods and beverages, according to the U.S. Agriculture Dept. The obesity rate among adults has more than doubled to 34 percent from 14 percent in 1971. However, the excess is not evenly distributed. Each year the U.S. creates 96 billion pounds of food waste, estimates the USDA, while 49.1 million people, or about 16 percent of the country's population, live in food-insecure households, according to the Food Research and Action Center. Worldwide the U.N. estimates there are 925 million hungry people.

  3. Too Much of a Good Thing: Law

    Too Much of a Good Thing: Law

    Law, while essential for regulating society, has rarely been popular and too much law is even less so. Philip Howard, author of Life Without Lawyers: Liberating Americans from Too Much Law (W.W. Norton, 2009), argues that an excess of lawsuits has stifled our ability to work effectively. Teachers, for example, no longer have control over classrooms for fear of legal action and doctors spend billions on defensive medicine. "We must remake our legal structures so that Americans are free again to make sense of everyday choices," Howard writes.
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  4. Too Much of a Good Thing: Information

    Too Much of a Good Thing: Information

    As the Police sang in 1981, "Too much information running through my brain, Too much information driving me insane." The Internet and mobile devices have given most of the world instant access to information 24/7. Very convenient. Yet information overload (which includes useless information) and multitasking can reduce productivity and might even interfere with our ability to process input. Research by Stanford University shows that compared with light media multitaskers, heavy multitaskers have greater difficulty filtering out irrelevant information from the environment and from memory, and find it more difficult to switch from one task to another. People may be receiving so much information they no longer have time to think deeply about it. As Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington said in a September 2010 interview with Bloomberg Businessweek Chairman Norman Pearlstine: "We have lots of information, but lack of wisdom."
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  5. Too Much of a Good Thing: Books

    Too Much of a Good Thing: Books

    Bibliophiles might complain the consumer appetite for reading books has been diminished by other entertainment, but people certainly still seem interested in writing books. Total book production is estimated to have jumped by 325 percent over 2002 to more than 1 million units, according to data from R.R. Bowker, a New Providence (N.J.)-based company that compiles bibliographic information. The problem is so many of these books are junky romances, dull-witted celebrity bios, blathering self-help books, and unreadable academic bloviation. Even the so-called quality press is not above reproach. In 2004, The New York Times reported that "disappointing manuscripts are pushed through" so publishers can use up budgets and young editors can get experience. Gutenberg spins in his grave.

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  6. Too Much of a Good Thing: Art

    Too Much of a Good Thing: Art

    "Technology, hype and the sheer profligacy of the arts when confronted with a large, hungry and wealthy audience have created a climate of excess—just too many artists, too much money, too many works and too much noise," writes Bryan Appleyard in The Times of London. Since 1970, the number of artists, which includes such professionals as designers, musicians, actors, dancers, architects, and writers, in the U.S. has nearly tripled to 2 million, according to the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). Strong interest may benefit the industry, but some believe growing media attention has also created a frenzy. Works sold in recent years, for example, have set incredible new price records: Take Pablo Picasso's Nude, Green Leaves and Bust, which in 2010 became the most expensive painting ever sold at auction ($106.5 million). Another conundrum: There may be too many artists chasing too few opportunities. The NEA reported the unemployment rate for actors in 2009 was 36.8 percent and for dancers and choreographers, 20.8 percent, compared with 9.9 percent for all workers in December 2009, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

  7. Too Much of a Good Thing: Medication

    Too Much of a Good Thing: Medication

    Medication can enhance quality of life, but research suggests that antibiotics, psychiatric drugs, and other medicines are being overused. For example, up to 8 million children in the U.S. take one or more psychotropic drugs, but a 2009 report in the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy states there is little evidence to warrant such widespread use. Effects on development remain unclear. Overall spending on prescription drugs in the U.S. was $234.1 billion in 2008, more than double that in 1999, according to data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
  8. Too Much of a Good Thing: Longevity

    Too Much of a Good Thing: Longevity

    Changes in lifestyle, new technology, and increased use of medication are helping people to live longer. Life expectancy in the U.S. has increased to 77.9 years from 70.8 years in 1970, according to CDC data, and the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that by 2050 about 20.2 percent of Americans will be over the age of 65, compared with 13 percent today. The challenge brought by longevity: cost. End-of-life care, including lengthy stays in hospitals and expensive treatments, accounts for about one-fourth of all Medicare spending in the U.S., yet according to the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, most spending in the last six months of life is of little value to the patient. That does not mean end-of-life care is unnecessary or valueless, but new processes may help to control spending.

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  9. Too Much of a Good Thing: Money

    Too Much of a Good Thing: Money

    "Mo money mo problems," goes the 1997 Notorious B.I.G. rap song. With nearly one-tenth of the labor force unemployed, it certainly does not feel like there is too much money for many people. But what about the super-rich? The wealthiest 10 percent of households represented 48.2 percent of total income in 2008, up from 34.6 percent in 1980. Too much money sounds like an enviable problem to have, but growing income inequality can include social unrest, social immobility, and economic risk.

    Another way to think about "too much money"—the Fed's printing of more money in the last two years has stirred concerns about inflation. Bloomberg Businessweek reported on Dec. 16 that the amount of currency printed and put in circulation has risen 18 percent, or $140 billion, since the Fed went into monetary overdrive in 2008. Banks' deposits at the Federal Reserve have grown by $1 trillion, or 2,100 percent, which could also one day fuel inflation.
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  10. Too Much of a Good Thing: Education

    Too Much of a Good Thing: Education

    Schools awarded 1.6 million bachelor's degrees in 2007–08, an increase of 32 percent since 1997–98; 625,000 master's degrees, up 45 percent; and 63,700 doctoral degrees, up 38 percent, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics. There are more educated Americans now than ever, but are we better off for it? The value of a degree has been debated for decades: In The Overeducated American, published in 1976, Harvard economist Richard B. Freeman argued that a college education is no longer a safe path to financial success and that there may be an oversupply of college-educated workers. Since 2000, the real earnings of college-educated workers have been on a downward trend, reported in 2009. An educated workforce is important for the country's knowledge economy, but boosting college participation does not guarantee a more skilled workforce—it might just "put more downward pressure on academic standards," George C. Leef, director of research at the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, wrote in 2006.
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  11. Too Much of a Good Thing: Sex

    Too Much of a Good Thing: Sex

    Once upon a time, Americans were more prudish about sex—or at least they pretended to be—but changing values, cable television, and the Internet made sexual images mainstream, and incredibly accessible. An estimated 18 million to 24 million Americans, 6 percent to 8 percent of the population, are sex addicts, according to the National Council on Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity. Another downside of sex: unwanted pregnancies. In 2006, a total of 846,181 abortions were reported to the CDC.
  12. Too Much of a Good Thing: Industry

    Too Much of a Good Thing: Industry

    Industrialization helped to bring roads, communication lines, and electricity to the U.S. Factories today produce a lot of things—from electronics to textiles—fast, which was beneficial during the boom years when consumers were spending. Then came worries about the environmental impact, as resources were consumed at unsustainable rates and pollution and greenhouse gas emissions rose, and grumblings about American consumers' gluttony. When the recession started, those concerns were overshadowed as people started wondering instead, What happens to industry when consumption slows? Despite economic stimulus plans passed in the U.S. and Europe to encourage consumption, thousands of factories have closed in China since the recession started.
  13. Too Much of a Good Thing: Freedom

    Too Much of a Good Thing: Freedom

    Americans, proud of our freedoms, can be eager to name the rights we don't have—gay marriage and health care, for instance—but can we possibly have too much freedom in some cases? Consider, for example, that freedom of speech means hate speech is not banned, or that our ability to consume freely has turned into spending beyond our means for some people. By the end of last year, 1,530,078 U.S. consumers had filed for bankruptcy protection, according to data from the National Bankruptcy Research Center. President Bill Clinton said in 1994 that the Bill of Rights was conceived with the assumption that people would use freedom responsibly, but today "there's a lot of irresponsibility. And so a lot of people say there's too much personal freedom."

  14. Too Much of a Good Thing: Entertainment

    Too Much of a Good Thing: Entertainment

    The vast selection of entertainment makes it easy to keep busy. But are these leisure activities morally or culturally beneficial? (Case in point: On Jan. 6 the third season of Jersey Shore made its debut with a record 8.4 million viewers for MTV.) Americans now spend more time than ever watching television, an average of 34 hours per week, according to the Nielsen Co. We also spend roughly 13 hours per week online for personal use, according to a survey by Forrester Research. Market research firm NPD found that gamers spend about 13 hours per week on average playing video games. The downside: Excessive engagement in such sedentary activities damages health, for example, by increasing body fat, finds a study by the University of Montreal and the Sainte-Justine Hospital Research Center. Also, spending more hours watching television or playing video games may lead to depression in young adults, according to a study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry.
  15. Too Much of a Good Thing: Work

    Too Much of a Good Thing: Work

    "More men are killed by overwork than the importance of this world justifies," wrote Rudyard Kipling. With nearly one in 10 workers unemployed now, millions of people could use some work. Yet as employers cut payrolls during the recession, many who still have jobs are feeling burned-out, according to a survey by Regus, the world's largest operator of serviced offices. "Stress caused by overwork has escalated during the past recession, with people working harder and longer to make sure they can pay their bills," Sande Golgart, regional vice-president for Regus, said in a press release.
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  16. Too Much of a Good Thing: Connectedness

    Too Much of a Good Thing: Connectedness

    It is a luxury to call, e-mail, or text-message someone anywhere in the world and receive a response almost instantly (even though some may come from working during the weekend), but global connectedness also has its hazards. Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown writes in his new book, Beyond the Crash: Overcoming the First Crisis of Globalization, that as national economies became more interconnected due to globalization, regulators and governments failed to keep pace and increase coordination. "For the first time everybody, from the richest person in the richest city to the poorest person in the poorest slum, was affected by the same crisis."
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  17. Too Much of a Good Thing: Choice

    Too Much of a Good Thing: Choice

    Americans are spoiled for choice. The average American supermarket carries 48,750 items, more than five times the average in 1975, according to the Food Marketing Institute. The problem is not confined to the grocery store: People are also presented with an array of options for credit cards, calling plans, televisions, clothes, retirement plans, even colleges. Consumers may now have a more robust selection, but the abundance of options can also be overwhelming, leading them not to buy at all or be less satisfied with their decisions—a concept called the "paradox of choice," according to a report by the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. The result is we can be overwhelmed or lose sight of what we need.

    Noel Hendrickson
  18. Too Much of a Good Thing: Technology

    Too Much of a Good Thing: Technology

    Rapid changes to technology have made life more convenient but the misuse of technology has also created new hazards, such as texting while driving and data theft. Also, the pressure to constantly upgrade electronic devices not only poses a potential annoyance to consumers, whose gadgets become obsolete every few years, it is also environmentally harmful. Each year about 40 million tons of e-waste are produced globally, according to Solving the E-waste Problem (StEP), a U.N. initiative.
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  19. Too Much of a Good Thing: Convenience

    Too Much of a Good Thing: Convenience

    An old Roman proverb goes, "Every convenience brings its own inconveniences along with it." Society's emphasis on comfort and convenience has led to many life-changing innovations, such as washing machines and automobiles, but at a cost. For instance, the way we fuel these technologies is not sustainable. Widespread reliance on cars—an iconic American convenience—for everyday transportation has created pollution and led to a decrease in the level of physical activity. Other conveniences such as single-use utensils and packaging have flooded landfills. There's a psychological impact, too. In an age devoted to instant gratification, sometimes it's a good thing when we can't get what we want when we want it.
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  20. Too Much of a Good Thing: Friends

    Too Much of a Good Thing: Friends

    We have too many friends—Facebook friends, that is, as well as other acquaintances on social networks. A Pew Research Center study shows social networking can diminish face-to-face relationships and foster shallower relationships. Also, a study of Facebook users by York University in Toronto, published in August 2010, found that greater online activity and self-promotional content were related to greater narcissism and lower self-esteem. Not to mention the fact that the more people you know, the more likely it is one of them will hit you up for money.
    George Doyle
  21. Too Much of a Good Thing: Productivity

    Too Much of a Good Thing: Productivity

    Productivity gains from changes in the way workers perform tasks as well as more intense use of capital rose at a 2.9 percent annual rate in this recovery, almost a percentage point more than in the last recovery, reported Bloomberg News. Companies found ways to use the equipment they have more intensively and intelligently during the downturn, but these efficiency gains may reduce the chances that jobs lost due to the recession will come back.
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  22. Too Much of a Good Thing: Energy

    Too Much of a Good Thing: Energy

    There is no way we have too much energy, some may say. Yet our unsustainable way of life may have resulted from discovering too much energy—from nonrenewable sources—all at once. Greenhouse gas emissions increased by 17 percent from 1990 to 2007, according to the U.S. government's Fifth U.S. Climate Action Report. University of California researchers estimate world oil will be depleted by 2041 at current supply, consumption, and growth levels. Has our past abundance of energy been our undoing, writer Kurt Cobb asks. On his website, he writes: "It may seem as if we have been immensely irresponsible with the bounty of energy that fossil fuels have given us. But in reality we have done what any organism does with a surfeit of energy. We have used that energy to propagate ourselves and to take over increasing areas of the biosphere from other organisms in order to enhance our survivability."

  23. Too Much of a Good Thing: Possessions

    Too Much of a Good Thing: Possessions

    "Imagine no possessions," John Lennon first sang in 1971. Yet in a country where the average woman owns 19 pairs of shoes (according to the Consumer Reports National Research Center), and the average household has three television sets (according to Nielsen) and is expected to own at least five Web-enabled devices by 2014 (predicts In-Stat), this can be hard to do. We buy and keep a lot of stuff for utility, sentiment, or hopes to sell it one day (remember that dusty box of collector's items). But many Americans have so many possessions that they outgrow their homes. According to the Self Storage Assn., there are 2.21 billion square feet of self-storage space in the U.S., a 663 percent jump from 289.7 million in 1984.
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  24. Too Much of a Good Thing: Credit

    Too Much of a Good Thing: Credit

    Some say there is no such thing as too much credit—unless you become reliant on debt, that is. After climbing for years, the national 60-day mortgage loan delinquency rate fell to an estimated 6.21 percent at the end of 2010 and average credit-card borrower debt was $4,964 in the third quarter, according to TransUnion. We now know all too well the consequences of easy credit. Some blame lies with lenders: White House adviser Elizabeth Warren said in a speech in December, "When it is impossible for a customer to know the full price of a credit card, and when the risks of a particular kind of mortgage can be hidden, then the market isn't working as it should." Of course, some of the responsibility also falls on consumers to control their debt.
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  25. Too Much of a Good Thing: Beauty

    Too Much of a Good Thing: Beauty

    Can we have too much beauty? It depends on whom you ask. Many Americans are obsessed with looking younger, thinner, or just better. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, 12.5 million cosmetic surgery procedures were performed in the U.S. in 2009, up 69 percent since 2000. (Americans spent more than $10 billion on cosmetic procedures that year, according to the organization.) The most popular surgeries: breast augmentation, nose jobs, and eyelid surgery. Beauty may be only skin-deep but physical insecurity runs even deeper.

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  26. Too Much of a Good Thing: Security

    Too Much of a Good Thing: Security

    The government has gone to great lengths to keep Americans safe—to the point that some feel their rights, if not their personal space, have been violated. Several lawsuits have been filed against the Transportation Security Administration, an agency created in the wake of 9/11, since it instituted enhanced pat-down procedures last year. Additionally, civil liberties advocates howl about infringements like street cameras, satellite tracking, and other Big Brother-like surveillance. As pop psychologist Wayne Dyer put it: "Only the insecure strive for security."
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