Who can resist the urge to compare themselves to others now and then? With social media at our fingertips, we often do so without even noticing. Swiping through posts from the people you follow can either give you a sense of satisfaction or a nagging feeling that you’re somehow missing out.
Dealing with the pressure of status is hardly a new phenomenon. It stems from a biological drive to prove your value in society. And this status drive can be a good thing, motivating us to become better, providing joy when we accomplish something useful.
Yet modern technology has blurred the boundaries between social groups, making it more likely for status to impact one’s mental health adversely. It’s one thing to compare yourself to your peers. You know these people and have multi-faceted relationships with them; there are other ways to balance out being somewhat behind in certain areas.
But it’s another matter when you are subconsciously comparing yourself to ultra-successful celebrities; their lifestyles and achievements are far out of reach for most people. It makes us feel status anxiety. And in the aftermath of the pandemic, such inequality is likely to be emphasized further. How do you cope?
Our current lifestyles and trends haven’t entirely harmed status. Younger generations offer one solution to the age-old concerns of status. Millennials are known for valuing experiences rather than material possessions, and this can be a way of liberating ourselves from many external markers of success.
You don’t need to be able to buy a house or an electric car to partake of the same experiences as the rich and famous. Anyone can go outdoors, take selfies in a national park, or get comfortable with saddle pads and go horseback riding. You still need some resources to travel to far-off destinations, but overall, more are easily within reach.
With this shift in focus towards experiences, society as a whole makes it easier to share in status. People are no longer limited to looking at what you own, how much money you make, or what school you came from. It’s what you do that matters, and gives you joy.
Find a niche
Still, seeking status through experiences is a limited solution. There will always be some adventures you can’t pursue. Maybe you can’t take enough time off work, or can’t set aside enough funds as we try to recover from a recession.
Or you could have health issues. As we age, it gets tougher to stay in shape and go hiking for fun. And with the lingering fear of COVID-19, only people in good health will likely be able to travel freely for some time.
The uncertainty and disruption of modern times will tend to highlight status inequality. For most of us, avoiding status anxiety will become a matter of managing our influences and seeking balance in our comparisons.
The easiest way to do that is through your social media feed and activity. Make sure you’re only following people whose posts do not evoke status pressure. After all, it’s possible to inspire others to be healthy without posting selfies of one’s toned body.
Extend this mindset to your own participation in communities and activities. If you find a niche, you can enjoy success and recognition within that small subset of society. A hobby like video gaming, for instance, can be an essential source of this positive status influence.
Abide by virtue
Our definition of what it means to be successful and enjoy a good life has changed over time. And it will continue to evolve. In the long term, we can’t be sure of how perceptions will shift and what people will consider status-boosting activities.
However, one thing that will always last is our sense of virtue as human beings. In traditional societies, for instance, it’s not only the tribal leader who is accorded status. The elderly, as well as the young, are valued for their ability to contribute to the group.
Make yourself useful to your community. Share some of your time and energy to help others. Your experience and insights could always prove valuable to someone who’s younger and still has a lot to learn.
Being virtuous also entails careful consideration of the feelings of others. It implies thinking before you post, knowing that what you share in today’s information-driven world could easily affect others on social media. Even as you look out for your mental health, do what you can to help lighten the burden on your peers and help them avoid status anxiety.