About five years ago, I read a book that rang quite true. It was called “Status Anxiety”, by Alain de Botton, and it had an intriguing premise. The downside to living in today’s society is that we are bombarded by imagery all the time of winners: millionaires, celebrities, and we are told stories all the time about how they won by making their own luck, working hard, and making the right choices. This results often in 90% of the population second-guessing their decisions, and feeling anxious about their place and status. Obviously this sort of anxiety has existed throughout history, but de Botton argues that it is far worse now because due to a variety of factors, like the increase in goods, services and health care, we devote far less time to day-to-day survival, and more time to the accumulation of material goods (houses, cars) and paying attention to others vis-a-vis our neighbors, friends and family.
This book was written before the explosion of Facebook, which I believe takes status anxiety to a whole new, gut-crunching level. People’s statuses are in your face, constantly. The trips, the new houses, the remodels, and worst of all for infertiles, the baby and pregnancy announcements, of course.
This week alone I have endured four announcements from acquaintances celebrating the birth of their third child. Each has been painful, and du Botton speaks about how having your face shoved in what you can’t have or don’t have is bad for you.
So what’s the solution? Should I deactivate my Facebook account? I seriously think about it from time to time. De Botton’s answer (this is greatly simplifying it) was to try to resist grasping for more, and instead try to celebrate art, literature and philosophy that focuses on the mundane, the ordinary. To value goodness and virtue. But above all, to try to ignore the noise and judgement from others about how to live our lives and come up with our own idea of what makes our lives rich and happy and try to stick to that code.
This year I am going to try to work on what I believe my own code should be, and most importantly how I can stay true to that code.