The Pursuit of Status: Why We Keep Doing Things to Be Liked and Accepted

Almost everything we do stems from our need to be liked and accepted by others.

Here are a few examples:

  • We pursue a career our parents chose for us (even though we hate it).
  • We buy cars or gadgets or stuff we don’t actually need to impress our peers or people we don’t even know.
  • We accumulate material possessions, believing it’s the key to happiness and of course we want to shout to the world that we’re successful we own valuable items. Hooray!

We do these things to earn others’ approval.

Because others’ approval leads to a higher status.

And with a high status — a higher social status — ah yes, that is everything.

But Why Pursue Status?

Let’s go back to the time when our ancestors live in tribes and hunt animals for food — the prehistoric era.

During the prehistoric era, our great1000000 grandparents would do everything for the sake of status. Survival was difficult. If the people in their tribe don’t like or accept them, death was likely the consequence — they wouldn’t survive in the wilderness alone.

On the other hand, if they have a higher status, they get the good meat, and their tribesmen would protect them for life.

Now that makes sense.

To stay safe — that’s the goal.

And who would not want to be safe?

Now here’s the problem: This mentality, for some reasons, continues in modern times.

This explains why we feel the urge to look good in front of others, and why we keep boosting our ego on Facebook bragging how successful we are in life. “Hey, look at me. These are my achievements!” 

So maybe, this mentality is also one of the reasons we’re so obsessed with earning more moneyBecause the more money we have, the higher the chance we can buy the things we want.

And the more possessions we have, the higher the chance we can impress others. Right?

Philosopher Alain de Botton coined this as “Status Anxiety,”

“Our judgment of what constitutes an appropriate limit on anything—for example, on wealth or esteem—is never arrived at independently; instead, we make such determinations by comparing our condition with that of a reference group, a set of people who we believe resemble us. We cannot, it seems, appreciate what we have for its own merit, or even against what our medieval forebears had. We cannot be impressed by how prosperous we are in historical terms. We see ourselves as fortunate only when we have as much as, or more than, those we have grown up with, work alongside, have as friends or identify with in the public realm.”

It’s like a loop:

You + Money = Possessions 

You with Possessions + Post on Social Media = Hey look at me!

But then you realize your neighbors, your peers, your colleagues, your high school classmates have more possessions than you. And they are much cooler. So you try to keep up. Regardless what you’ve earned, you want to earn more to buy more possessions. Because that’s all that matters.

The loop continues:

You with Money + More Money = More Possessions

You with More Possessions + Post on Social Media = Hey look at me!

Fuck. You realize that others, still, have more valuable possessions and a higher status no matter what you do. You need to keep up. Because that’s all that matters! So you kick it into high gear.

The loop rolls again:

You with More Money + More Money = More More Possessions

More More Possessions + Post on Social Media = This is me! This is me!

Still, many people have better lives than you. Not fair.

The loop rolls again (and again):

Never give up + Never give up = Repeat the Cycle

You get the picture.

Until we realize that it’s pointless, that it’s a waste of time, energy, and money, the loop would keep rolling and rolling. I wonder what would happen after the hundredth loop?

I imagine this:

Lying on my deathbed. I thought about the things I wish I could have done but didn’t because I was so busy keeping up with my social status. I wasted my life.

And now, for the million dollar question: Where do you spend your time, energy, and money?

Are you busy pursuing a higher social status?

The Solution

There really is no ultimate solution other than to be fully aware of our social hardwiring and understand the reasons why we do things to be liked and accepted. Once we realize that we are only driven by the desire to boost our status, we’re on our way to taming our primal instincts.

I remember what David Foster Wallace once said, “If you worship money and things … then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth.” 

But I wonder when is enough actually enough?

Ah, that would be tough. Everyone is different.

For me, it’s contentment — as long as I’m healthy, I can do what I love, I can spend time with the people I love, and I can pursue creative projects on the side while having a full time job, I need not do things to be liked and accepted.

Contentment has made my life more peaceful and less stressful. Maybe I’m not the most content person in the world. But I would say that contentment has made my life far better than pursuing social status.

Being content sets my mind into thinking that I have enough and I am enough — I don’t need others’ approval, I don’t need people’s attention, I don’t need fame and possessions.

And it works. Who would have thought?

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Jade Panugan

Some interesting questions about life and human behavior: What if there's no money? Why we often feel the urge to prove that we're right and others are wrong? Why we react to things beyond our control? Why we hate? Why it's hard to be content? I don't have all the answers, do you? Let's chat.