A World of Speculation

I would have thought from the title of Alain de Botton’s Status Anxiety that it’s just another self-help book and have passed on it.

In fact, it is another self-help book, in a way, but this author of The Art of Travel makes the genre something beautiful, and the “self” he aims to help is not just the pocketbook or the sense of emotional well-being, but something deeper — maybe even the soul.

De Botton allows that status is actually important, since it can affect how a person functions in a community, but he observes that many people spend their lives in useless worry about who is coming up behind them or whether they’re catching up with the person in front of them.

When I look at status as a motivation, it clarifies a lot of otherwise unexplainable behavior — from the next-door neighbor getting angry out of proportion to the incident to Jimmie Carter’s wandering around the world looking for audiences to admire him ( I won’t pick on Clinton while he’s in the hospital).

In the second half of the book, the self-help part, De Botton offers ways to overcome some of the frustrations of status — at least to realize that a person’s true value is not measured by his standing in the community. I’m not finished reading the book, so I can’t

It’s worth reading, and even when I find myself arguing with the author, the argument takes me into new areas of thought where I hadn’t traveled before.