Status Anxiety

Why comparing yourself to others is a recipe for unhappiness.

In my book – The Humanist Approach to Happiness: Practical Wisdom – I have a chapter dedicated to no keeping up with the Joneses.  My advice is to make sure you live within your economic limits so that you don’t stress yourself out economically – which would lead to unhappiness.

It turns out I’m not the only person whose noticed the connection between status anxiety (feeling the need to keep up with others) and unhappiness.  Alain de Botton has a great video on this topic.

In this video he comes up with the following equation.

Self Esteem = success/expectation.

The higher your level of expectation, the less good your success will seem and therefore the less you will experience a sense of self-worth.  If, on the other hand, you have low expectations, then your success, whatever that is and however small it might seem, will seem larger, and you will have greater self-worth.

This makes sense. We all know it intellectually. The problem is how do we withstand the peer pressure to do and be more in real life.  It’s called peer pressure because it causes a lot of pressure!

The key is in how you define your expectations.  If you decide to value independence, then the less you are like others, the more you are successful.  This is why iconoclasts are so happy, for the most part.  As long as that is their goal and expectation, it works. If, they are iconoclasts by accident and don’t want to be, their differentness will make them very unhappy.  Which is why, when kids are different, the best advice to give them is to embrace their differences.

But what if you can’t?  What if your status anxiety is getting the best of you? You know intellectually you shouldn't care, but you do.  Again, I find that accepting the fact that we are evolved tribal animals so of course we care what other people think helps.  It helps me to find humor that my anxiety can’t be helped, and that actually makes me less anxious. Instead of fighting my anxiety I accept it and it lessons it’s grip on me, just enough that I can think of other things for a bit – like – I wonder how insecure everyone else is.  Because they re, because they evolved to have social anxiety too.

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