The best books on status anxiety

Loretta Graziano Breuning Author Of Status Games: Why We Play and How to Stop
By Loretta Graziano Breuning

Who am I?

I grew up around a lot of suffering over status. I didn’t want to suffer, so I kept trying to understand why everyone plays a game that they insist they don’t want to play. I found my answer when I studied evolutionary psychology. This answer really hit home when I watched David Attenborough’s wildlife documentaries. I saw the social rivalry among our mammalian ancestors, and it motivated me to research the biology behind it. I took early retirement from a career as a Professor of Management and started writing books about the brain chemistry we share with earlier mammals. I’m so glad I found my power over my inner mammal!


I wrote...

Status Games: Why We Play and How to Stop

By Loretta Graziano Breuning,

Book cover of Status Games: Why We Play and How to Stop

What is my book about?

People care about status despite their best intentions because our brains are inherited from animals who cared about status. The survival value of status in the state of nature helps us understand our intense emotions about status today. Beneath your verbal brain, you have a brain common to all mammals. It rewards you with pleasure hormones when you see yourself in a position of strength, and it alarms you with stress hormones when you see yourself in a position of weakness. 

But constant striving for status can be anxiety-provoking and joy-stealing. It releases those stress chemicals when you think others are ahead of you. Loretta Breuning shows you how to rewire your brain to avoid the trap of comparison and status-seeking to achieve more contentment and satisfaction in life.

The books I picked & why

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Status Anxiety

By Alain De Botton,

Book cover of Status Anxiety

Why this book?

It’s hilarious and cringey at the same time to read this honest look at status anxiety. It’s hilarious to watch others seek status. As for yourself, you hopefully relieve your cringing because you see how status has obsessed people throughout history. 

The author says we seek the love of the world as well as the love of a partner. The quest can ruin an otherwise good life, so he offers solutions. I love his explanation of the original “Bohemians.” They were the hipsters of the 19th century! They created those impressionist paintings we love because they were aching for status.

The author is a famous British philosopher who inherited a fortune. He sees that money does not relieve status anxiety. But he misses the real reason: because we’ve inherited the brain of status-seeking animals (as explained in all of my books). 


Snobbery: The American Version

By Joseph Epstein,

Book cover of Snobbery: The American Version

Why this book?

He sums it up in one brilliant sentence: 

“Envy is the only one of the 7 deadly sins that isn’t fun.”

The author is a great observer of the snobbery that surrounds you in daily life, from fashion snobs to intellectual snobs. He’s a “snobographer,” according to one reviewer.

This book invites you to laugh at the snobs, not to change your thinking. Pointing fingers feels good in the short run, but my books show that it hurts you in the long run. We all have the one-upping impulse because we’re all mammals. If you hate people who do this, you end up hating yourself. You may insist that you don’t care about status, but moral superiority is just more one-upping.

So enjoy with caution.


Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There

By David Brooks,

Book cover of Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There

Why this book?

Bourgeois Bohemians sneer at expensive cars, but they spend much more renovating their bathrooms. They are eager to make a statement against consumerism, but they are also eager to let you know how successful they are. I grew up around this thinking, so I love to hear the forbidden thoughts expressed publicly.

Brooks explains the inner conflict of bobos. They feel guilty about their success, so they call attention to their solidarity with the common man. They want to keep achieving, but don’t want to appear that way.

Brooks misses the deeper engine of this inner conflict: all mammals seek status in their herd or pack or troop because it promotes “reproductive success.” Natural selection built a brain that rewards you with serotonin when you raise your status.


The Status Seekers

By Vance Packard,

Book cover of The Status Seekers

Why this book?

This 1950s view of status-seeking is fun because it’s far away yet eerily familiar. The small details that reveal a person’s social class are explored. Your sex life and social life are scrutinized, along with religion, education, politics, and “the totem poles of job prestige.”

Packard wrote many popular sociology books in the 1950s. I loved his book The Human Side of Animals. It shows how animals compete for social dominance because it helps their genes survive. So why does the author blame society for status-seeking in this book? He knows the truth: all societies have status-seeking because we’re all mammals. I think this book has a bitter tone because the author is appealing to bitter readers. Fortunately, we have a choice about playing the game.


Envy: A Theory of Social Behaviour

By Helmut Schoeck,

Book cover of Envy: A Theory of Social Behaviour

Why this book?

A thick science book on envy is just what we need to help us release this feeling. The author looks at “Man the Envier” in an anthropological way. He shows how diverse cultures have struggled to manage this natural impulse, even using “black magic.” That may sound crazy, but my Italian ancestors did this. They believed that suffering is caused by malocchiothe evil eye from a person who envies you.

I like this book because it shows how humans create envy inside themselves. You may not want to see inside yourself. It’s easier to dream that the perfect society that will relieve your envy. But you make yourself powerless when you do that because you can’t control society. You are better off building your power over your emotions, as my books explain.


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