Life is a game.
We play games for status incessantly and automatically. Some people play this game consciously, others not conscious.
As a tribal animal, our survival has always depended on our being accepted into a supportive community.
But once inside any group, we are not happy with settling for the bottom of the group.. We are driven to rise within it.
Back in the stone age, increased status meant access to better mates, more food and greater safety for ourselves and our offspring.
As humans, we have been keeping up with the Joneses since they were in the cave next “door.”
The more status we earned, the greater our capacity to thrive and produce thriving children.
So we are driven to seek connection and rank, to be accepted into groups and win status within them.
This is the game of human life.
So who are the winners?
Do you win the status game because you have many followers on social media?
Are you a winner because you managed to get yourself into an elite organisation?
Are you a winner because you have a top qualification from an elite institution?
Are you a winner because you earn more than anyone around you?
Or are you a winner because you managed to have all of the above?
In his new book, The State Games, identifies three methods by which we reach the top: dominance, competence and virtue.
In today’s strange and highly monitored online-mediated world, we are continually offered new and shifting symbols of what it is to be a winner: thinner, larger, whiter, darker, taller, prettier, smarter, happier, shinier, brave-and-sadder, many likes, many “wow-you-look stunning” brave-and-sadder with this career triumph and that many likes.
The thing is, these symbols are never ending. The goal posts are always shifting. It’s a competition without formal rules, and referee.
So you wake up in the morning and the chase is on for to be the thinner, larger, whiter, darker, taller, prettier, smarter, happier, shinier, brave-and-sadder, many likes, many “wow-you-look stunning” accolades.
When it becomes overwhelming, it is useful to remind ourselves that these symbols we chase are often no less ridiculous than giant selfies and that none of us are competing with everyone in the world, no matter how much it can feel that way.
The great consolation of the game is that it is not the final victory we should seek in order to be happy, but simple and humble progress: the never-ending pleasure of moving in the right direction.
Nobody wins the status game. They are not supposed to. The meaning of life is not to win, but to grow, to make progress, to contribute, to collaborate.
The desire for status is never really satiated because it can never really be possessed by the owner once and for all. You are always chasing a game who’s rules you don’t know who made them, and why.
Status games are wearying and draw us away from sources of genuine human satisfaction.
The best way to win the status game? Do not play, pick up your ball and go home. Status has no final destination.