We are anxious about the place we occupy in the world, so says Alain De Botton in his interesting and readable book Status Anxiety.
The place we occupy will determine how much love we are offered and so, in turn, whether we can like or must lose confidence in ourselves.
In other words, our perception of the place we occupy in the world holds the key to a rare commodity of unprecedented importance to us: a love without which we will be unable to trust or abide by our own characters.
Thus, if status is defined as one’s position in society, then status anxiety becomes a worry, so pernicious as to be capable of ruining extended stretches of our lives that we are in danger of failing to conform to the ideals of success laid down by our society.
We may as a result be stripped of dignity and respect; a worry that we are currently occupying too modest a rung or are about to fall to a lower one.
What are the causes of anxiety? The book argues quite convincingly that anxiety is provoked by, among other elements, recession, redundancy, promotions, retirement, conversations with colleagues in the same industry, newspaper profiles of the prominent individuals and the greater success of friends.
We learn that it can be socially imprudent to reveal the extent of any anxiety and, therefore, evidence of the inner drama is uncommon, limited usually to a preoccupied gaze, a brittle smile or an over-extended pause after news of another’s achievement.
More than anything, the reader is entranced by the thesis that while status anxiety possesses an exceptional capacity to inspire sorrow, it can also spur us to do justice to our talents; encouraging excellence; restraining us from harmful eccentricities and cementing members of a society around a common value system.