We know it by many names. Keeping up with the Joneses. Fear of Missing Out. Status Anxiety is as old as civilization itself.
For us to understand what Status Anxiety is, we have to first ask ourselves, “When was the last time I attended my school reunion?”
I haven’t been to one in three years.
What is Status Anxiety?
We have struggled with the collective complexity of status Anxiety for ages. We are all aware of it: feeling anxious and unsure of your place, not just socially or economically, but in the grand scheme of things itself.
We are constantly competing with ourselves to be the best we can be. But this yearning for security makes us bitter, and at often times, make us feel estranged from our realities.
I wouldn’t be writing about anxiety if I hadn’t struggled with it myself. I have scrolled through pages and pages of my newsfeed, constantly judging everyone on display. How did they find the time and energy to post about their food, their bungee jumps, about being broke while sporting swiss watches and Italian bags? In all honesty, I was just as shallow as they are.
It doesn’t even have to be our rich friends making us miserable by proxy. It can be, simply, a long-lost friend creating beautiful art while we are stuck at our desks. It can be our exes getting married, or looking lively and excited on a trip to Sajek when we feel anything but content.
Status anxiety, simply put, is any pointless comparison that makes us think, “What have I done with my life so far?”
Judges and Juries
We judge ourselves before we judge anyone else. Truthfully, we are all conscious of our status. We know where we fit within our selective groups, what our roles are. We are confident in the path we have set up for ourselves to take.
A state of contentment, however, invites the risk of becoming complacent. That’s a big no-no for those who live in constant fear of settling for less.
In the age of social media, we are more insecure than ever before.
The less we believe in ourselves, the easier it is to get triggered by Facebook posts and Instagram feeds.
We become so easily trigged, because we are, at our cores, unhappy.
Keeping up with the Millennial Joneses
On paper, we are richer and healthier than ever before. We live in a time of unprecedented peace, own more assets than our ancestors and partake in greater vices and luxuries. However, we still pursue status because it is one of the clearest markers of success.
We blame social media for the apparent displays of narcissism, but they are only partially to blame. Yes, Facebook has conditioned us keep tapping our screens for that next hit of dopamine. However, status anxiety existed long before Facebook or even Myspace existed.
Equality is a nice sentiment, but we know that’s not true on a personal level.
Like unique snowflakes, we get insecure about the different shade of color on our friend’s face, “Why didn’t I think of that!?”
Most of us are snobs in our own ways. We participate in gossip and casual judgement to feel included in the cliques. Thus, it’s when we in turn feel excluded and judged that we feel so bitter and wronged. The opposite of this shallow snobbery is unconditional love we receive from mothers, and in later life, from our companions.
We do indeed live in a world ruled by late capitalism. But the truth behind status anxiety is more poignant than that. Since our emotional rewards are pegged so clearly and transparently to our material possessions, we run after the conditional love and respect that’s afforded to people who are, publicly, clear winners.
We are All Our Own Toxic Ricks
To be aware of ourselves, is both scary and rewarding. A lot of us want to appear larger than life, to set clear expectations about what we want from ourselves. Understandably, no one wants to present themselves as a half-finished canvas.
Wanting something only because of its social value, however, can create severe disillusionment.
That’s what happened with me. Once I realized I really didn’t want certain things, I was back to square one, judging myself more fiercely and less sure of what I truly want.
Paradoxically, it’s not the truly rich or free who suffer the most from status anxiety. According to a study, ethnicities and communities who suffer from a historical lack of social power are more willing to pay for high-status goods. This is most apparent in traditional rap videos, which fetishized bling culture for a whole generation, and less subtly, in Chinese and South Asian luxury subcultures.
Lands of the Braves and the Free
Isn’t it funny, that the ones we seek to emulate, the Americans, the Europeans- or maybe in the future, Martians- are less worried about status anxiety than we are? Could it just be, that folks belonging to the upper middle class and above in these societies are so comfortable with wealth, money and freedom that it’s normal for them?
Who wants to be normal though, right? Normal is boring. Normal doesn’t get people talking, or throwing heart reacts for the tenth selfie on our annual budget Bali trip.
That’s our twisted Millennial logic. We pine after such ethereal experiences while being perpetually broke, living our lives one weekend, one trip, one project at a time.
We hate ourselves for being so superficial. But then, for some, these are perfectly logical wants. For some, these are even dreams. Yes, a great job with decent brand value, a fancy house, and a great car are sometimes all that 20-somethings aspire to. They should not be judged for their actions. Live and let live, as the idiom goes.
How to Stop Worrying and Start Loving (and Living) Your Life
Our youth will only last for so long. Adulthood stretches from the time we start smoking cigarettes to the time we take our last breaths. If we let status anxiety get to us, that’s plenty of time for infinite regrets.
Why worry so much? We are all specks of dust adrift in infinity. We will be gone sooner than we think. Let’s worry less about living and just start living.