Status Anxiety is a much bigger issue today than at any time in history.
The self-help gurus have sold us on the idea that each of us individually has the power to succeed or fail within us. If I read “Awaken the Power within” I will find my power and inevitable achieve riches. If I read it, and I am not rich by Friday… I am a loser.
17th Century: Nobody Expected to Become An Aristocrat
Nobody in the time of Louis XIV thought that if they just worked a little smarter that they could be as rich as Louis. Today we see Bill Gates in jeans and a tshirt and it feels like if I had a garage and worked hard I too could become a billionaire.
It is probably as likely to become a billionaire as it was to accidentally switch places with Louis XIV… but we don’t feel it… and so we have enormous anxiety over the fact that we ourselves haven’t got a billion in the bank.
Driven By Status, Not Money
Economists give a vision of us that we are rational actors almost entirely driven by money.
According to Alain de Botton, the truth of it is that we are far more hungry for status than we are for money. It tends to be that well paid jobs come with lots of status, and poorly paid jobs are very low status. If you were paid €100K for cleaning plates in McDonalds – the lack of status would still make the job tiring. Research says that only about 10% of the population who are not bothered in any way by their perceived status in society.
Career snobbery is a major feature of modern life: “What do you do?”, a positive answer… conversation; a non-status job… hmm, is that the time… I need to refill my drink.
A Ferrari is not just a fast car, it is an object that confers some degree of honour on the owner. People are a little nicer to you when you show up at a party in a Ferrari than when you arrive on a bicycle.
“Every time a friend of mine does well, a little piece of me dies” George Bernard Shaw
Download The Podcast
Listen to the podcast with Alain de Botton, (go to episode 76).
Or the full documentary on Status Anxiety