Alan de Botton, Status Anxiety (New York: Vintage, 2004). (Amazon.com)

de Botton, STATUS ANXIETY
de Botton, STATUS ANXIETY

Alan de Botton’s Status Anxiety is part social criticism, part philosophical inquiry into “A worry, so pernicious as to be capable of ruining extended stretches of our lives, that we are in danger of failing to conform to the ideals of success laid down by our society and that we may as a result be stripped of dignity and respect; a worry that we are currently occupying too modest a rung or are about to fall to a lower one.” [1] This phenomenon is caused by our desire for love from others, our expectations in life, the myth of meritocracy, the social snobbery of the elite we admire, and our dependence of oft ignored factors such as luck, fickle talent, or the profitability of our employer. We allow these factors to determine our worth. What solutions might be available?

De Botton finds answers in philosophy, art, politics, religion, and bohemia. For example, many philosophers remind us that the views of others don’t matter if their opinion doesn’t match fact. So if a wealthy person tries to make you feel insignificant because you’re poor, philosophers remind you to rigorously challenge the idea that wealth is equal to worth. Likewise, art, like good novels, challenge our views of social hierarchy. Politics ask us to challenge the status quo. Religion can remind us that all humans are intrinsically worth respect and dignity. Bohemia, even when absurd, reminds us that we do not need many of the things society tells us we need to live “the good life.”

De Botton’s book is exceptionally well-written, insightful, and challenging. Although he is an atheist philosopher—therefore we don’t share the same broad worldview—his insights may have been some of the most helpful I’ve received in a while inspiring me to live a more authentic Christianity where my self-worth is not found in those things society uses to measure us. Obviously, de Botton doesn’t outright advocate finding one’s worth in embracing the love of the Triune God, or pursuing the image of Christ rather than the “image” of a successful person, but the Christian who reads this book will find that many of de Botton’s insights transfer quite nicely toward Christian Spirituality and Discipleship (in fact, I’m presenting a paper on this very topic on Saturday, March 1st). I highly recommend Status Anxiety for anyone who has found themselves consumed or bothered by the need to “keep up with the Joneses” or “climb the corporate ladder”. It has been one of the most edifying, wise, enlightening books that I’ve read in a long time.

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[1] Kindle Locations 73-75

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