Status anxiety (term coined by Alaine de Botton) is a widespread North American based phenomenon that is the root of unnecessary suffering as individuals AND as a society. From the day we were born, we have been taught that our worth is based on how much we accomplish (particularly in the realms of academics, careers, and social status). This cultivates unstable self-esteem (volatile self-worth based on how much we have “achieved” in the near-past), and arrogance (the act of thinking or behaving that comes from believing that you are better, smarter, or more important than other people– based on those achievements). In summary,
Status anxiety = unstable self-esteem + arrogance
As individuals, there are many adverse implications of status anxiety. This anxiety has us continuously comparing ourselves to others through:
- Upward comparisons; when we compare ourselves to people who we believe are better than us. When it is done marginally, this can be inspiring. However, when done against people who are way out of our ball-park, it is a form of self-harm, activating the same pain receptors as does physical pain incurs.
- Downward comparisons; when we compare ourselves to people we believe are lesser than us. This is PROTECTIVE but can also cultivate horrid arrogance.
As a society, there are also many adverse implications of status anxiety. For instance, many public health and biomedical researchers have become more concerned about increasing their personal curriculum vitae (ie. research portfolio) than actually improving population health– the whole reasons for why the research is done in the first place. Research papers are not getting past peer review because they are getting shot down so the reviewers can feel higher, or rewrite the papers themselves. In another example, public health organizations are constantly shunning others for the interest of inflating themselves and hopes for deflating others– even if both organizations are working towards the EXACT SAME GOAL. It is clear how dangerous this can be for society as a whole: Status anxiety is blunting progress for improving health policy and biomedical care!
This is a vicious cycle because inevitably, there will always be people and groups of people (stressed, in quotations) “above” and “below” you or your own group. There will always be millions of people and groups to compare yourself to. The only way out is to accept yourself as you are, and in turn, accept others as they are. Until we as a whole society come to this realization, there will only be more suffering and an even larger pool of prestigious A-holes.