Get the key ideas from

Status Anxiety

How social isolation and meritocracy cause fear of underachievement and how to solve this

By Alain de Botton
18-minute read
Audio available
Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton

Status Anxiety (2005) diagnoses a problem unique to modern Western societies: the fear of being perceived as unsuccessful. While our desire to climb to ever-higher rungs on the social ladder can inspire and motivate us, it can also lead to anxiety and depression. This book examines the causes of our anxiety about status and suggests a few antidotes that might help us face our fears. 

  • Social climbers who want to reevaluate their motivations
  • People who feel stressed about underachievement
  • Anyone who has ever looked down on someone for being a “nobody”

Alain de Botton is a philosopher, author, and founder of the School of Life, an institute that teaches emotional intelligence and aims to help people lead more fulfilling lives. He is the bestselling author of The Architecture of Happiness and How Proust Can Change Your Life.

Go Premium and get the best of Blinkist

Upgrade to Premium now and get unlimited access to the Blinkist library. Read or listen to key insights from the world’s best nonfiction.

Upgrade to Premium

What is Blinkist?

The Blinkist app gives you the key ideas from a bestselling nonfiction book in just 15 minutes. Available in bitesize text and audio, the app makes it easier than ever to find time to read.

Discover
3,500+ top
nonfiction titles

Get unlimited access to the most important ideas in business, investing, marketing, psychology, politics, and more. Stay ahead of the curve with recommended reading lists curated by experts.

Join Blinkist to get the key ideas from
Get the key ideas from
Get the key ideas from

Status Anxiety

How social isolation and meritocracy cause fear of underachievement and how to solve this

By Alain de Botton
  • Read in 18 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 11 key ideas
Upgrade to Premium Read or listen now
Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton
Synopsis

Status Anxiety (2005) diagnoses a problem unique to modern Western societies: the fear of being perceived as unsuccessful. While our desire to climb to ever-higher rungs on the social ladder can inspire and motivate us, it can also lead to anxiety and depression. This book examines the causes of our anxiety about status and suggests a few antidotes that might help us face our fears. 

Key idea 1 of 11

A lack of love causes our anxiety to skyrocket.

What drives someone to want to constantly accumulate larger and larger sums of money? The answer that immediately comes to mind might be a simple one – greed. But there’s a small hole in that argument. If greed were the only factor, why would someone continue to desire more money, even after she’s reached an amount of wealth that couldn’t be spent in, say, five generations?

If people accumulated wealth for material reasons only – like wanting a bigger house or a fancier car – they would eventually run out of things to buy, and their pursuit of money would stop. But we know that’s not the case, so the root cause must be something else.

Consider the way we treat people of high status versus those of low status. Even the language we use when talking about each group is different. People who hold important positions in society are “somebodies,” while everyone else is a “nobody.” It’s impossible to actually be nobody, of course, but all too often, low-status people have their identities ignored or denied.

So, the quest for status might actually be about respect, and even love – not romantic love, but a feeling that your existence matters to someone. 

Why is love so important, and lovelessness so destructive? Well, most of us are unsure of our own value, and our identities are very much based on the perceptions of others. If you tell a joke and everyone laughs, your confidence in the idea that you’re a funny person will grow. On the other hand, if people avert their eyes when you walk into a room, it won’t be long before you start feeling worthless and anxious.

Our self-esteem is so fragile. Think of it as a balloon with a hole – this leaky self-esteem balloon constantly needs to be refilled with the “helium” of external love so as not to deflate completely. Meanwhile, other actions – even small ones, like not being greeted enthusiastically enough or having our calls repeatedly unanswered – can suck more air out of the balloon.

So, it’s not surprising that we’re anxious about our place in the world. In our current society, our status determines how much love and respect we’ll receive from others and, as a result, whether we can confidently love ourselves.

Upgrade to continue Read or listen now

Key ideas in this title

Upgrade to continue Read or listen now

No time to
read?

Pssst. Sign up to your secret to success: key ideas from top nonfiction in just 15 minutes.
Created with Sketch.