I felt moved to write a post on this topic as it touches a lot of peoples’ lives to a greater or lesser extent. In it’s most basic form it’s where we see ourselves in the pecking order of life. It’s who we benchmark off and then often it’s what we worry about not living up to. There are a couple of books that are worth a look, one is really good – Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton, and the other has some interesting ideas mixed in with some pretty self-serving prose, The Selfish Capitalist by Oliver James. The books go into more detail than I’m aiming to, as always I’m aiming to raise awareness of the issue and it’s affect on us. Thus allowing those who wish to, to try to avoid the pitfalls of getting lost in the “game”.
So what is Status Anxiety? It’s that feeling most of us get when we feel a touch of envy that someone we know seems to have something “better” than us, be it the bigger house, faster car, more expensive watch, better job to name only a couple of items people often compare. However, these are just “things”, that are marketed to you as life enhancing. But of course that’s not strictly true, and the pursuit of these “bigger, better & brighter” things often just leads to unhappiness even when the object is obtained. As you’ll discover you only now have this years model and next year you’ll be “old hat”. You may also have a heft loan or debt to pay in order to own your new “life affirming” purchase.
Now I will agree this is merit in treating ourselves from time to time, but that’s just the point, it’s a treat to ourselves, not a status symbol. If you feel what you buy is justifiable to yourself and you love it, then great. However the danger comes in comparing, when it turns out the thing you love still isn’t quite as lovely as the similar thing your friend has. If you can keep to loving your stuff, looking after it and enjoying it, then you’re halfway to beating the angst. Because clearly the stuff you buy or aspire to is for you and your personal gratification.
I would ask you though to consider why you’re choosing the stuff you are, is it that you really appreciate it and adore it? Or is there really the underlying idea that you’re allowing others to know how well you’re doing? If you can become truly happy with you, your life and how you sit in the world then you’ll find the angst you might have felt will melt away. Most of the well balanced people I know don’t spend their time comparing themselves to others or aspiring to the latest & greatest thing on the market. They find pleasure and enjoyment in the life that is within their current reach, that is affordable and engaging. We’re all different, so one person’s pleasure will be another’s torment, but find you’re simple pleasures and life will feel so much better.
Once you eschew the need for recognised status you will find life becomes much simpler and easier to navigate. No need to constantly compete to be the “best” and have the “best”, as what you do and are will already be what feels great for you. I’m sure most of you will be able to see that a house is a house, a car is a car, a watch a watch etc. It’s up to you to decide if the addition, expensive “bells & whistles” really matter to you and will actually enhance your experience of life. If they do, great, go get them. If however you realise that you’re perfectly happy as you are, then stick there and enjoy what you already have.
I have mentioned before that I believe time is the most precious and priceless commodity in life. We can never get it back once it’s gone. Spend time thinking about what you’d like to do with yours, then start to build a life to fulfil that. Do you really need to do the overtime at work to get the “better” car? Or would it be more rewarding to keep the existing car for a bit and spend more time with you friends and family? Spending time doing things that make you feel good, from computer gaming to long distance running, whatever works for you.
If you want to lose the angst you’ll probably need to alter the way you look at the world and what you think you need and want from it. See what you already have, relish that and then if need be augment it with additional things that’ll make you and those you care about love life more. You really don’t need to compete with anyone else, life really isn’t a race or a competition, because the more time you use up competing, the poorer you really become overall.
Forget the neighbours, the guy at work or your sister in law, just do what feels right and good for you and those you love. It really is that simple, it just might take some practice…