‘Status anxiety’ is a condition we all suffer from to different degrees. It’s about comparing yourselves to others, wishing to have more attention or more fame or more money or more power. De Botton doesn’t think things were always quite like this. He sees a lot of it brought on by the competitive, socially mobile society we have created, where supposedly you can be anything. If you’re not something, it’s your own fault – the logic of our society tells us.
It’s not a Christian book, but de Botton is one of the best friends Christians could have. In explaining a condition he calls ‘status anxiety’ in our capitalist society, he is making a diagnosis that is very similar to the sins of pride and envy we find in the Bible. He’s agreeing with Jesus that we’re not here on Earth to build bigger barns and get the best seat at the table (to use Jesus’ language).
Not only this, but de Botton proposes that Christianity is one of the solutions to status anxiety! Christianity, he argues, tells people that what they accomplish on Earth is not all there is. It esteems the lowly, valuing (at its best) things other than money and power.
The other solutions he proposes are philosophy, art, politics and bohemia.
I’m impressed by de Botton. He writes with clarity, authority and insight. It seems he’s excited by a lot of different ideas and he makes them accessible to the lay-reader – an ambition I share with him. This is a book which is having a big impact on my life.