Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton [Book Summary – Review]

Almost every community on the planet has been structured in a kind of hierarch, starting from ancient Egypt to the modern US. You could rationally debate that situation is necessary – a normal part of the universe. Yet, is it normal to be stressed just like we are now about our statuses in the social classes? Meaning, have we had to worry about this cruel position all the time?

This summary discusses that our stable eternal worry of accomplishment is a reasonably modish aspect, caused by various reasons, among them social isolation and features. At the time when we’re more physically mature than before, we definitely not more satisfied. The next sections will discuss some justifications for the reasons behind it, they also present answers to the issue of status anxiety.

Buy this book from Amazon

Chapter 1 – A need for love makes our anxiety explode.

What makes a person strive for eternally collecting more and more amounts of money? The only answer that pops up right away to you might be an easy answer – greed. Yet, there’s a tiny loophole in this debate. If greed were the mere reason, why would a person keep on striving for extra money, still when she’s achieved a degree of richness that couldn’t be wasted in, for example, five lifetimes?

If people collected fortune for just material causes – such as desiring a larger flat or a luxurious vehicle – they would, in the end, finish the shopping list, and their chase of fortune would pause. Yet, we realize that’s not the situation here, thus, the main reason should be another one.

Think of the manner in which we handle people of the upper class against those of the underclass. Also, the language we utter when address each one varies. People who are in powerful sites are “important”, others, on the other hand, are “nothing”. It’s not possible to be, for real, nothing, for sure, yet, all in most usual times, low-class individuals’ neglected or rejected.

Thus, the search for rank might, in fact, concern respect, and also love – not romantic love, rather, a sense that your life means something to somebody.

Why does love matter, and lovelessness is very harmful? Alright, a quite number of us are not certain about our own worth, and our features depend very much on the opinions of people. If you act humorously and people liked it, your trust in the concept that you’re comedian will rise. On the other side, if people turned their faces when you enter a place, it will be soon you begin feeling less value and worried.  

Our self-esteem is very weak. Consider it as a balloon with a piercing – this cracked self-esteem balloon regularly requires to be pumped with the “helium” of others’ love to avoid its whole fall. Meantime, other doings – also tiny doings, such as not being appreciated gaily enough or having our phone calls being missed over and over again – can engulf more air from the balloon.

Thus, it’s not shocking that we feel worried about our situation around the globe. In our present community, our position specifies the degree of love and respect we’ll get from people and, consequently, whether we can truly love ourselves.

Chapter 2 – When we come to adulthood, we get in contact with snobs who we regularly seek to satisfy.

When you were a child, what did you do precisely that motivated the people in your life to ooh, and ahh, and flatter you? Perhaps it wasn’t your tears, squealing, and belching – it was actually only that you were there, add to it how cute and tiny you were.

Unfortunately, as we progress in age, our social circle broadens to begin to have people who we don’t appreciate and love us thoroughly. Rather, we need to acquire their consent and recognition. And mostly, those we’re working on influencing them are self-important snobs.

In fact, the notion snobbery hasn’t been there since ever. Its existence can be found back in England 1820s when plenty of Oxford and Cambridge schools began to shortening the notion sine nobilitate – with no nobility – to s.nob, recorded alongside the names of students who don’t have patrician origins. Through time, the sense has changed nearly to the contrary: a person who doesn’t appreciate people without social class. Snobs order that a person’s social rank matches their value as a human being.

Among the greatest aspects of snobbery is that it just asset your value based on the surface signs of your accomplishment. You could be very wise, well-educated, or patient, but if you don’t have an academic certificate from a reputable school or a professional title to meet, a snob will easily dismiss your life.

If snobbery is very degrading, how does it hold a position in the community? Sadly, it points to be strengthened through media. Imagine the cover of a bright journal. Who’s watching your steps? Maybe a wealthy and popular man. In the journal’s pages, you’ll see the moment details about that man mentioned fully, driving you to think that his recent gala dress or current love relationship is prominent for real.

Even worse, snobbery manages to move on through generations. First-generation plants their regulations in the second generation, adding to it a strong connection between low class and unworthiness. Thus, if your family admired an elegant, luxurious cabinet as a mark for their position, you might realize that you’re going to do the same in the future.

Chapter 3 – Anxiety comes when what we get doesn’t match our expectations.

When you attempt to write down all the benefits we have in the modern community compared to, for example, medieval Europeans, you properly require two hours. They were not just routine conveniences unique for the peasantry, but they also had to adapt to hunger and sickness while the upper class was maintaining social distance. The majority of people’s anxiety should have been through the roof, correct?

In fact, at the time our materialized prosperity has raised in doubles during the past millenniums, so has our scales of status anxiety. Why haven’t we succeeded in accomplishing mental stability with materialized prosperity?

Before the American Revolution, the political, social, and economic feature wasn’t very appreciated or looked for. Yet, after the revolution, rank started to be known by economic progress instead of inherited hierarchies.

At the time when equality unquestionably enhanced the normal person’s quality of life, it caused everybody to unrest, as well. When people started to find a specific degree of affluence, like achievable, then, maybe supposed, they fall in despair if they didn’t get it. Their despair raised when they look at what their neighbors have and they don’t.

Why do we look extensively at what our neighbors get? It’s due to that we think of as enough of a thing – such as richness or respect – isn’t determined separately. We require a consultant community of people to assist us to specify how comfortable we feel within ourselves. The issue is that our consultant community’s expectations, and ours, can be far to reach.

William James, a professor at Harvard during the 1800s, examined the psychological issues found within communities that have unlimited expectations. James’ theory was that people’s self-esteem is destructed only because of comparisons to whom they see as equals. Thus, because James’ self-value is based on him as an educated psychologist, he would be frustrated if he knew that others were more experienced in psychology than him. Yet, since he’s never paid time to learn ancient Greek, for instance, it wouldn’t disturb him to know that acknowledge could learn the Symposium by heart.

James’ assumption says that, as our targets broaden, our possibility for humiliation broadens as well. Imagine a bookshop, full to the border of autobiographies composed by men and women, besides self-assistance manuals guiding you to the principles of success. Perhaps these books pretend to be advisable, but in fact, they’re merely providing you with wrongly great expectations and a way to unfulfilled desire.

Chapter 4 – In an extremely competitive community, poorness contributes to decreased self-respect. 

Imagine a scenario from medieval Europe: a lord and a lady hitten in their wealthiest outfit, drinking wine and walking through well-decorated backyards. Peasants workers in the land and in their small houses nearby. Now think – have the lord and lady ever scared of getting hit by poverty and turning into peasants, and did the peasant really strive for a day when he is a lord?

Back in time, status was very much permanent. Actually, it was abnormally hard to quit being a lord if you wished to, also as it was primitively not possible to escape being a worker. Yet, although the shortage of social transformation, the low-classes in the medieval and pre-modern Europe had one important way of relief – Christianity. To them, wealthy and poor ones live not because few had paid efforts more than the other to accomplish their social rank, yet, easily because of God’s will. Both classes had a known position in the community, and still, if the wealthy glanced patronizingly at those in need, each one realized the other’s part. 

The labor classes had Christ too, who had been a poor worker, on their side. Jesus was the most sacred and admired person in Christianity, yet, he had been nothing but poor. This made it difficult for the wealthy to debate that richness and value were equal.

In the middle of the 1700s, on the other hand, competency started to acquire a place in the community, succeeding in the first novels of wealthy and poor by new, anxiety-inducing ones. Flourishment and fortune started to be found not merely as your inheritance, but as what you earned from hard work, cleverness, and virtue. Thus, if you were in need, you weren’t merely misfortuned creature by God’s doing – you, in fact, earned your low status because of laziness and stupidity.

For sure, competency has grandly been a blessing, giving people the opportunity to accomplish something no matter what race, gender, age, or history they have. Yet, unfortunately, it’s caused poverty to be a shame – unfortunate compromises for humanity’s continuity.

Chapter 5 – Flourishment is usually offered at the ruth of our firms’ owners and the economy.

The majority of us walked through life supposing that, a day will come when we’ll require to search for a job and get hired in another. Yet, only two centuries ago, in 1800, merely a fifth of the US workforce was hired in another job. By the twentieth century, the fifth became half, and by the new millennium, it hit 90 percent.

In the job market nowadays, a huge part of our accomplishment is associated with our employers. Yet, sadly, the work conditions don’t seem to be of that value for the employees’ side.

Think of the pyramid-like structure in the majority of firms. Thay structure requires a person to be in the head – which reveals that someone, or a number of people, should be underneath. And those who flourished in a firm may not be the perfect ones among the qualified people at the job, yet, the people who’ve dominated the tricky political skills – persuading and fabricating, for instance – which enable them to get higher ranks in the pyramid.

You should not just investigate the politics of business to flourish at the job, but you’re also under the control of the firm’s profit margins. Sadly, if a firm requires to rapidly develop its profits, the most productive plan is often to release employees, replace them with machines, or heading for low-paid-salary labor from poor countries.

What is worse than that, workers and firms both should cope with the economy’s path, which has regularly included loops of growth and recession. The slops in the economy seem to be the only normal in numeric concepts – yet, beneath those slops are layoffs, bankruptcies, and closures. Although authorities and banks do their best to facilitate this destructive loop, it’s exposed itself as unescapable till now.

Had the globe been so wicked all the time to the normal people? No, said Karl Marx in his 1848 Communist Manifesto. Marx argued that laborers had for one time regarded as members of their business owners’ extended families, at the time when pure financial self-interest was a new aspect.

Marx may have been glorifying the history and unfairly excluding the elites, as few critiqued, yet, he recognized one prominent issue: that worker feels pain. Employees now are most of the time taken as working machines, systems whose main duty is to meet a firm’s productivity target. Thus, while the community drives us to flourish in a business atmosphere, that same atmosphere cast out our humanity and growing our anxieties.

There have to be paths to stave off all such status anxiety, correct? Luckily, there are. We’ll see some of them in the coming sections.

Chapter 6 – Philosophy questions prevailed worldviews and assist us to redefine what forms virtue.

A narrative says that when Alexander the Great came to Corinth in the early fifth century BC, he met the philosopher Diogenes wearing rags and settling under a tree. When Alexander offered him his help in any matter he wishes, Diogenes just replied: “Yes, if you could step out of the way. You are blocking the sun” – knowing that Alexander was considered the most powerful leader in the realm back then.

Diogenes, for sure, realized the difference between being a gentle and contempt – what he had chosen to avert was the set of regulations provided by the conservative standards. Back from its origins to this time, philosophers have argued the status quo, driving us to question ourselves why we appreciate what we do. Rather than taking others’ viewpoints for granted as facts, philosophers practiced reason to evaluate others’ opinions.

Back to the narrative about Diogenes, you may predict that Alexander has been beaten by frustration at Diogenes’ insult. Rather, he smiled and said that if he wasn’t the great leader, he’d have wished to be Diogenes. Alexander replied rationally and not emotionally. If he hadn’t, Diogenes might have been killed. Eventually, in history, people haven’t considered a tease as dishonoring – take the seventeenth-century Spain as an example, where fights resulted in 5,000 casualties. Unlike the fighters, philosophers believe that our feelings serve to take us to a problem if it wasn’t controlled by ration. Our emotions might persuade us to have a big slice of cake, while reason rings a bell that having it would disturb our health. Philosophy guides us to question ourselves if what we wish for is actually what we need and if our concerns about the result of our doings are explained.

Thus, how can philosophy assist us to resist status anxiety? Realize that most people’s perceptions have plenty of uncertainty and fallacy, and detect your own closures about what is worthy – or not. Argue with traditions that haven’t been strictly tested, and specify whether others’ attitude is supported by the right logic. Lastly, challenge yourself if you really appreciate the reason for those whose knowledge sounds very vital to you at this moment. You might see that their views don’t deserve your efforts.

Chapter 7 – Art takes us to promote the beauty and importance of normal lives.

During the Industrial Revolution-era England, art and practicality were knocking each other. Those who supported practicality suggested that art can’t construct factories, pave railways, or build new cities. Art-proponents, on the other side, asserted that art could present answers to a few of life’s greatest anxieties.

“Art is the criticism of life”, said Matthew Arnold, an Oxford professor of poetry, and one of art’s massive proponents at his time. What did he point to in his words? Maybe it’s merely that there issues in life that needs critique – our perception of status is one of them.

Consider Jan Austen’s Mansfield Park as an example of an artistic challenge to the status system. In the context, a girl called Fanny Price takes off from her poor home to live with her wealthy aunt and uncle, the Bertrams. Not as the Bertrams, Fanny doesn’t know French and have a poor background in geography. Nevertheless, by the end of the story, Fanny is the protagonist whom Austen introduces to have an honest Nobel core.

Stories such as Mansfield Park grant high status to poor characters, demonstrating that a poor young lady can be a sophisticated person and that ethics isn’t restricted by social rank. Paintings, as well, can question our notion of what and who is valuable. 

Conservatively, painters weren’t meant to anticipate normal people acting in a normal way. These types of actions, such as Chardin’s 1746 Meal for Convalescent, were ironically named “genre scenes” – the least prominent topic for art ly beneath history paintings, portraits, and landscapes, Chardin’s painting illustrated a clear dressed lady stripping an egg for an invalid. Why apparently pay his effort on a boring topic like this? It was to undermine the traditions transcribing that women’s domestic life really was dull, and thus, with no essential importance.

Maybe also better at mocking traditions is comedy. Jokes are a kind of critique, recognized as entertainment. They let us find better manners to behave, reaching out to those at high ranks for their unfairness and waste.

If you don’t believe that jokes can have a huge impact, just consider how real leaders in history reacted after being laughed at. In 1830, artist Charles Philipon had painted the French King Louis-Philipe with his head changing into a pear form. Just right after it, the king had Philipo captured, commanded the journal to be suspended, and collected the ready-printed copies! It appeared that Philipo had touched the king’s pride – and uncover the king’s weak ego.

Chapter 8 – Keep in mind that status hooks on the traditions and politics of the specific community in which you are.

It’s simple to get stuck in the loop of thinking that our developed community’s declaration of success is normal or universal. Yet, communities throughout time have had broadly various concepts about who worths to earn rank and who doesn’t.

Consider the ancient Spartans. A model Spartan was a hostile person whose muscles are well-built and with no care for getting married. He didn’t learn numbers and calculations, because this means he would do trades, while he believed only in the fighting – pretty much that he was permitted to spend just one night in a month with his wife. If he had children born “weak”, they would be extracted from him to be left in the mountains to vanish. 

Compare the model Spartan with the model Englishman from 1750 to 1890. Battles were finished and dancing had started. To have a reputation in the community, you should be a gentleman, not busy during the day other than looking after your property. Sending your kids to die on the mountain was not an option – you were supposed to love your home, yet, could have an affair. 

What is it behind this massive difference between the two prototypic men? An answer is that community living circumstances of war requires courageous soldiers to protect the poor, thus, it’s possible that those guys will be the most appreciated. Yet, in a comparably stable community, similar military qualifications aren’t in demand.

Thus, what forms a modern model Western man? Maybe it’s a guy or a lady who has accomplished wealth and authority through seldom business effort.

Same as the Victorians, we don’t send our kids to the wild – and we do the same in equating fortune with both respect and satisfaction. And it’s not difficult to find stories from the past that demonstrate only how painful that equation can be.

Consider only the Native Americans at colonization time. Their societies weren’t technologically developed, yet, they were close-knit and equal, and the majority of their people managed to have some possessions. Afterwise, the Europeans came. Slowly, Native Americans wished for jewelry, weapons, and wine rather than knowledge or to realize the methods of nature. They had more stuff of fortune, but figures of suicide and alcoholism raised, and societies started in-conflict.

Developed Westerners are not advanced at knowing what will satisfy us. We think that getting a new car or a precious necklace we’ve desired all along, we’ll win infinite happiness. Yet, what is actually going on? Our awareness goes at last to unlikely bright material, and the loop goes on.

Chapter 9 – Understanding the level and range of history assists us to realize the equality of all people.

Based on ancient Greek history by Herodotus, the ancient Egyptians had a tradition of taking out pallets holding bones and moving them between the tables when they are done with great feasts. Was the tradition to drive pro-parties also to seek drink and dance, or to return them back to their houses in a bad condition?

Sadly, Herodotus doesn’t respond to this question. No matter the answer, though, the idea of death drives people towards what they admire the most in life if it’s going to party at the Nile river or deciding to quit parties and go for other habits. Although it might look unnatural at the beginning, the toll of death, memento mori, assists us to spell out others’ viewpoints and reevaluate what is really prominent to us.

If you’ve ever gone to see the Colosseum in Rome or any other building that’s now damaged, you’ve joined a common habit of ancient times: ruin-gazing. Spending time with ruins is a strong note that what was whole or glory one time is now no more than remains. Quite shortly, everything around us will become dust – time doesn’t differentiate between wealthy and poor.

At the time you’re after ruins, you might wish to determine little time in forests or in worship place as well. Such two places share a common prominent thing: vastness. Worship places are designed with high ceilings to serve a point. Following the same idea, how can a person shape a true issue for their own prominence while being at the margin of an infinite desert, a huge mountain, or a massive iceberg?

Thus, rather than regularly attempting to turn ourselves to – ar at least pretend – more prominent, we can get over our status anxiety by understanding that all people are not prominent in the end.

When we settle with our relevant unimportance, we can benefit from that idea to begin seeing each other as equals. Rather than thinking it a tragedy to be the same as other ones, we must appreciate everything that unites us. Within each human being is seldom a pair of dread and longing for love. It’s simple for us to normally show empathy and charity instead of contempt kids when they express these emotions – so why don’t we attempt and perform the same for the grown-ups?

Chapter 10 – Bohemians overturn the social order by rejecting taking a role in society in a traditional manner.

When the word “bohemian” crosses your mind, you might imagine a young, hippie-ish guy or lady with undressed hair, loose clothing, and the career of poet or artist. While the bohemian outfit is now a modern style, bohemia itself, in fact, started during the early 1800s. The notion described a baggy group of people who wear simple fashion, inhabit poor places, appreciate art than business, and seldom had nontraditional sexual lifestyles.

The middle-class appeared on the surface at first when Napoleon was defeated in 1815. Soon after, the bohemians came to challenge nearly everything they believed in – mainly materialism and triviality. Most prominently, bohemians questioned traditional concepts of who earned status and based on what.  

When the middle-class considered material advancement as the extend of importance, bohemians appreciated sympathy and commitment to art. The model bohemian was a person who had quit the safety of a salary by profession and rather decided to dedicate their effort and time to writing, painting, traveling, or with ones they care for.

Henry David Thoreau, an American writer, and philosopher of 1800 time embraced the bohemian concept by choosing to leave society and have his own wooden cottage in the forest. Thoreau made it as simple as he could, with some possessions and concentrating his efforts on shifting towards more accustomed to nature.

It might look a little time to consider one page of Thoreau’s journal and take the woods a home alone. Thus, how can the bohemian behavior be employed in your routine life? The answer is to have people around you who have the same value concept as yours.

Bohemians usually decide to spend their time just in societies of people who have their contempt for status and fortune. If the names Greenwich Village, Montparnasse, or Bloomsburg crossed your path, you’re already intimate with few of the most well-known bohemian provinces in the main cities in history.

The opponents of the status quo who inhabit these areas think that if you’re flourished in the current social sphere, it only shows you’re fit for indulging in others’ faulty value concept. Yet, if you rather channeled yourself with people who decide not to benefit from a material standard to measure their accomplishments, you can separate yourself from the middle-class’s dream and the anxiety that brings.

Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton Book Review

Though a quite number of people in a developed society living their lives running after wealth, reputation, and power, that strife can take them to intense anxiety about how we scale up to our peers. We might do good to recall that our view of accomplishment is a very different one and that our ancestors in previous societies didn’t have the same dread of being regarded as no one or a failure. Luckily, there are some incidents to the harm of status anxiety, with art, spirituality, and bohemia in it.

Download Pdf

Download Epub


Savaş Ateş

I'm a software engineer. I like reading books and writing summaries. I like to play soccer too :) Good Reads Profile:

Recent Posts