Status Anxiety: Can Money Buy Happiness?

What is Status Anxiety?

Status Anxiety occurs when an individual feels a sense of fear or insecurity regarding their occupation and financial standing. Those that experience status anxiety may feel that others look down on them or feel that they are less than others as a result of their background. This is such that those that may be financially poor feel and sense of shame about their status and that they are judged or judge themselves as failures and even as bad people as a result of their lower income.


Why does it occur?

The simplest explanation for why it is that people experience status anxiety is because many of us deem that others tend to be nicer to those that have a higher status and higher financial standing. This is particularly prevalent in capitalist cultures, such as our own, in which there is a heavy focus on what others do for a living and how this defines us a people. The prevalence of Status Anxiety in our society is something that has been primarily outlined and documented by Swiss philosopher and TV presenter, Alain de Botton. De Botton had observed that interest in others rises or drops off, however misguided or unproductive, depending on their occupation and status. Status Anxiety is an ever-increasing problem in our society, as the number of ways in which an individual is able to achieve ‘status’ appears to grow innumerably as time goes on. There is a proliferation of stories in magazines, newspapers and documentaries who have ‘made it’ in some way and for those of us who haven’t ‘made it’ and compare ourselves to those have supposedly have, the anxiety about status continues to grow as we feel ever more that we are failing and that others or judging us for this.


Why does it matter?

While a sense of insecurity about your standing in life may not seem dangerous, de Botton has stated that status anxiety can be more destructive than many may realize. This is because it leads people, who may not appear by society’s standards to have a high status, to believe that all their most fascinating and wonderful qualities are entirely worthless without an impressive job title to accompany them. It causes people to neglect their wellbeing for the sake of pursuing goals that are likely unattainable and that, in the end, likely won’t help their status anxiety as once they achieve a goal, they simply compare themselves to the next individual with a higher status than them.


What can we do about it?

The first step to overcoming status anxiety is recognizing that you are experiencing and that you may be judging others on the basis of their status in return. De Botton states that the remedy then for all those involved is to remove yourself from the status game all together. This involves ensuring that you do not engage in judgment based on another’s status and that you focus on those that surround you that see your qualities outside of your occupation or financial status and take the time to understand and know you as a person. De Botton further highlights that once you recognise your own potential as a human being, you will, in turn, find it easer to trust yourself, to experiment, to make mistakes and to achieve your goals without feeling worthless in the process.

In order to break this down further, there are a number of ‘step-by-step’ guides that can be found online outlining the manner by which you can break free from Status Anxiety by letting go of societal measures and comparisons. In essence, these guides highlight the importance of recognizing that more money will not translate to more happiness and will not make you a better person. Rather, it is important to focus on your own core values, life goals and intrinsic happiness. Here are some examples, outlined by writer Leigh Stevens, of ways in which you could refocus your energy and create a happier life that does not rely solely in your income for validation:


  • Practice Humility
    • Humility is difficult to achieve, but remaining mindful of your humility on a daily basis will remind you that you do not wish to be judged on the basis of your wealth and should not judge others in this way.
  • Engage in Mindfulness
    • Take the time to examine your core values and ask yourself what you believe in and what it means to you to do right in order to begin to look past the value of monetary wealth.
  • Contribute Meaningfully
    • Reframe your way of living in such a way as to stop comparing yourself to others but, rather, engage in meaningful social interaction in which you share experience and knowledge rather than engaging in comparison.


  • Enjoy life not ‘stuff’
    • Experience is something that money can’t buy. It is not possible to put a price and memories and experience. Enjoying life with your family and friends is invaluable and will make you innumerably happier than money ever could.



Book and Website Recommendations

The concept of Status Anxiety has been largely proliferated by Alain de Botton. De Botton’s book, Status Anxiety, delves deeply into what Status Anxiety is and why we care so much about our status within society. The book also provides excellent advice, cultivated from real life experiences, about how to overcome Status Anxiety and achieve happiness. is a goldmine of information and resources pertaining to Status Anxiety, happiness and life with many excellent books, articles, documentaries and Ted Talks. This website is highly recommended to anyone who wishes to know more about the fascinating work of Alain de Botton.




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