Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton

StatusIn a world obsessed with hoarding material wealth and acquiring symbolic societal status, how we judge the value of our existence is to a great extent dependent upon how worthy or unworthy others perceive us to be – whether fairly or unfairly. While a favourable verdict imbues us with a vainglorious vanity, an adverse judgment plunges us into a morass of depression and despondency. A paranoid anxiety concerning our status (or the lack of it) in society is the theme of Alain De Botton’s “Status Anxiety”. This is a very relevant and essential work, especially considering the pressure we put on ourselves to better our prospects relevant to that which is the preserve of our neighbour.

Alain De Botton exhorts us to sever ourselves from the unending loop of the rat race and to develop an attitude of temperance and contentment. Arguing that this manic craving for status was not always a concomitant of the Homo sapiens thinking, De Botton provides various spiritual as well as practical examples to illustrate the fact that frugality can be the handmaiden of happiness and a fulfilling life. Whether it be Henry David Thoreau’s ingenious act of living in a self-constructed house in the serene calm of wooded surroundings, or St Thomas Aquinas’ austere self-imposed poverty, De Botton impresses upon the curious the fact that monetary excesses to not equate to either spiritual progression or peaceful living. As De Botton also takes pains to illustrate, there have been movements and attempts by a collection of determined souls – spanning a number of years – to liberate mankind from the relentless pursuit of Mammon worship and the sacrifice of happiness and judiciousness at the altar of greed and prejudice. These individuals encompass a wide range of art enthusiasts such as poets, painters, authors and Christian moralists. While it is beyond the scope of this review to recount the exploits of such luminaries, suffice it to say that all their exhortations finds a strong voice in De Botton’s writing.

De Botton writes with a passion that is genuine and a concern that is not unfounded. His impassioned pleas to not get bogged down in the abyss of extraneous opinions and to be not taken in by outlandish displays of ostentatious behavior strikes a powerful chord and remains long after the actual book has been completed. It needs to be clarified that De Botton does not advocate a complete abhorrence of material pleasures and a return to the mendicant style of living that was practiced by the hunter gatherer. On the contrary he urges us to practice self-restraint and to seek contentment in valuable and worthy intangibles such as love towards one’s family, cultivation of long lasting friendships and the inclination to lend a helping hand or an able shoulder whenever the need arises. As is the case with De Botton, there is no verbiage or flamboyance in the writing. The narration is pleasing on the eye and the important facets that are emphasized are supplemented by alluring illustrations.

“Status Anxiety” is a welcome and relieving remedy to the universal ailment of greed, rapaciousness, vanity and jealousy. If one is feeling weighed down by the pressures and predicaments of societal comparisons, then this is the very book one has to reach out to, to get rid of such burdensome anxiety. 

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