I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I picked up this book. The cover suggested a light, humorous take on consumerist society – an indictment of the whole keeping up with the Jones’ mentality. In fact, it’s a rather scholarly analysis of modern happiness that was much more intelligent than I bargained for and leaves the reader with plenty to mull over.
Status Anxiety starts off rather dry, but picks up once it begins delving into theories on class and society – think Marx and the like. Feudal society probably sounds awful to you or I – peasants toiling in the fields, medieval landlords lording it over their servants. But he argues that everyone was in fact kinder to one another back then (perhaps as there was virtually no hope of ever escaping your “place”, so those higher up the ladder didn’t feel threatened), and that most people were actually content. It’s a fascinating concept. Everyone knew their place in a hierarchical, class based system, but at the same time, were valued for the role they played.
Were we really happier before the dawn of capitalism?
Now anyone can theoretically become anything they want, but failure is like a moral condemnation. And most of us will fail at something at some point. Some failures (failing to lose that last 1.5kg) are no big deal, while others (failing to get a promotion) sting – and they’re much more visible. Our accomplishments, or lack thereof, are an indication of our worth as a human being. Yet isn’t our morality – the content of our character? – a better measure than our worldly feats?
He writes that we either need to increase our achievements or reduce our desires. Surround ourselves with people on our level: think big fish in a small pond rather than vice versa. Happiness, it seems, is relative. Makes perfect sense to me.
What do you think? Could or would you be happier in a simpler society?