'Every adult life could be said to be defined by two great love stories. The first - the story of our quest for sexual love - is well known and well-charted. The second - the story of our quest for love from the world - is a more secret and shameful tale. And yet this second love story is no less intense than the first.' Thus speaks Alain de Botton author of the thought provoking book Status Anxiety. In this day and age, we are given respect in direct proportion to our (perceived) "success". It is like a calibration, for the world to decide how much respect they owe us. So desperate are we for status, it is the over-riding concern of our lifetimes to achieve status and respect. Increasingly, status in the West has been awarded in relation to financial achievement. The consequences of high status are pleasant. They include resources, freedom, space, comfort, time and, as importantly perhaps, a sense of being cared for and thought valuable ? conveyed through invitations, flattery, laughter, deference and attention.
High status is thought to be one of the finest of earthly goods. For this reason, we worry whenever we are in danger of failing to conform to the ideals of success laid down by our society. We worry that we may be stripped of dignity and respect, we worry that we are currently occupying too modest a rung or are about to fall to a lower one. We might not worry so much if status were not so hard to achieve and even harder to maintain over a lifetime. Except in societies where it is fixed at birth and our veins flow with noble blood, our position hangs on what we can make of ourselves; and we may fail in the enterprise due to stupidity or an absence of self-knowledge, macro-economics or malevolence.
From failure will flow humiliation: a corroding awareness that we have been unable to convince the world of our value and are henceforth condemned to consider the successful with bitterness and ourselves with shame. The trouble with America in particular is the belief that if you work hard, you will be proportionately blessed with financial success. The converse side of this coin is that if you lack financial succes, you simply don't deserve it. Of course this fails to take into account the dynamics of macro economies in which national wealth is not necessarily a representation of the those who individually share in this success.
I think the problem in our competitive societies today is that the more we acquire, the more difficult we will be to please, yet at the same time the more difficult it will be to achieve status (simply because there is more to "wade through" before arriving at the peak. In modern societies if one is born into dire poverty it is very very difficult to "wade through" everything that stands in the way, and the more prosperous society becomes the more there is to wade through). The analogy is a waterfall. The people at the top are comfortably safe. Those int he middle will either sink of swim and are struggling to stay in the same place, desperately afraid of being sucked down and equally determined to reach reach the top. Those at the bottom of the waterfall simply have no chance.
I was once told that there are three possible solutions to most problems, money, a miracle or to simply change the paradigm. In the case of status anxiety, only two of those will solve it. Perhaps we should take a leaf out of the Buddhist book, and instead change our perspective and realise the ultimate futility and mortality of our existence. The problem you see, only exists because we use society as our mirror. If we stopped and put it all in perspective, we might change ours.
Ways to avoid stress:
1. Perspective. This is probably the most important. Will this problem affect you in a few days, in a year, or in the long term? If it doesn't affect your overall or long term happiness it probably doesnt matter that much.
2. The solution won't fall out of the sky. Miracles don't happen anymore. When faced with a challenge it is best sometimes to take the bull by the horns and deal with it as opposed to ignoring or postponing your action.
3. Priorities. What is most important at the time? By prioritising, you will come to realise that you can only effectively deal with one problem at a time. Defeat each problem in chunks.
4. Life plan. It sounds awfully cliche but without a plan you will simply drift about constantly changing tack, never settling on a single course. Success at anything come wtih patience and persistence.
5. Set realistic goals. Success is proportional to expectation over achievement. If you make your expectations realistic you are less likely to be disappointed. Don't build castles in the sky.
6.Relax! Simply take some time out once in a while to review and put things in perspective.
Ted Nichols is a writer for http://gentlemans-journal.blogspot.com and http://topicalinterest.blogspot.com