There are two types of people: those who experienced their glory days in high school, and those who experienced an endless nightmare. People will say that college is a “fresh start” in terms of establishing your status and persona amongst your peers. You no longer have to worry about the football captain throwing spitballs in your hair, or the “Regina George” of your school making fun of your outfits every single day. Although these people may not be around anymore physically, the experience you go through from age 3 to 18 will essentially affect the rest of your life for better or for worse.
I recently finished Mitch Prinstein’s book, Popular: The Power of Likability in a Status-Obsessed World. I can’t lie, I was considered “popular” in high school. I was one of the captains of the soccer team, I was a cheerleader in middle school, and I was in the top 6 finalists for Homecoming Queen. On the outside, it appears that I had a dandy high school experience; hanging out with the “cool kids,” dating the most popular boys in the school, and being known by pretty much everyone in my gradating class. I was pretty, smart, and athletic. If you have any of the same characteristics, you were probably considered “popular” in high school, too.
However, when I look back on my high school experience, I can’t say that I was necessarily ‘happy.’ The thing about being part of the popular crowd is that I always had anxiety circulating my mind about what people thought of me. Since most of the school actually knows who you are, you are constantly in the spotlight. Other students look at you walking down the hall, keep up to date with who you are dating, check online profiles for the most recent gossip, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I am definitely aware that my high school experience was probably ideal compared to many. I was not fiercely bullied or made fun of or laughed at. I had my moments too, though, and would come home crying when people made fun of the way I did my makeup, or call me “the anorexic girl” behind my back. When you are in the spotlight, you are held to a higher standard than everyone else. You are expected to look pretty everyday, have the nicest clothes, and have the most confidence. I, however, struggled heavily in the confidence department, so I tried to make up for it by overcompensating in the other 2 categories. This meant: waking up extremely early every day to do my makeup and straighten my hair (I don’t remember ever going to school without makeup on), and picking out an outfit styled with the latest brands like Juicy Couture, Abercrombie & Fitch, Seven for all Mankind, etc.
I know what you’re thinking, “Oh God, what a harddddd life you had. You must have been so exhausting trying to look pretty every day while the other students were bullied and harassed in the middle of every class.” Trust me, I know I had it better than others. I know that many people would have traded places with me. The point I am trying to make here is that popularity does not end after high school. What you went through in your adolescent years does not disappear after graduation. There is no “clean slate” in college. What you go through in adolescence affects there rest of your life: your career, your relationships, etc. It affects what you choose to seek later on in life – status or happiness.
There are two types of popularity: status, and likability. It’s nice to have both, but one is far superior than the other. Let’s take status for example. Someone of status can be someone like Paris Hilton or Donald Trump. They were both born into wealth, and what we all know, money = power. The more money you have, the more “power” you are assumed to have since you have access to many things that 90% of us do not. You have more financial freedom to do the things you want to do, and do the things that many others could only wish they could do.
However, both Paris Hilton and Donald Trump are not the most “liked” celebrities out there. They are not necessarily two celebrities who you would say #goals to (unless you are a radical, irrational, and close-minded Republican), or celebrities that you would probably want to hang out with if you had the chance. This is where “likability” comes in. Being likable is the most determining factor of happiness. When you are well liked, people want to be around you, and think of you as a positive influence in their life. Well liked people are often understanding, humorous, good listeners, and compassionate. Some well-liked celebrities are Ellen DeGeneres, Beyonce, Tom Hanks, etc (there was so much on Tom Hanks had to include another hyperlink here on how cute and awesome he is). Compare these 3 celebrities to the Kardashians, and most people will choose to spend time with the first group. This is likability vs. status.
The thing is, many people believe that just because you were popular in high school, means that you will go forward being a successful human later in life. In essence, it’s hard to have a high status and high likability factor. Many people correlate high status with characteristics like: egotistical, selfish, narcissistic, self-centered, petty, etc. Ever see previews of that show Rich Kids of Beverly Hills? Or the Real Housewives? They come off extremely pretentious, exposing their lavish lifestyles to the rest of the world, AKA, people who come no where close to their financial status. Many of these people do not have the best approval rating compared to the rest of the world. Therefore, it is a challenge for them to essentially humanize their life – make it seem like they are “just one of us.” They are put on this pedestal that has a negative connotation many times, so they have to try and show their ‘likable’ side if they want to succeed even more in life (which equates with either making more money because all rich people want to become richer – or becoming happier – since of course having a high status does not make you happy).
The likability factor in popularity is key. Many of the popular kids you knew in high school who were just popular due to their financial status (being the rich kid), their looks (best looking of the grade), or their athletic ability (senior captain, fastest player, etc) do not end up the most successful or the happiest people later on in life according to Prinstein. The thing is, having a higher status will not make you happier. Being popular in high school will not guarantee you to become a reality TV star or the most popular person at your new job. So how does this relate to the digital revolution?
Right now, we are living in a society where everything you do or say is displayed on social media. Due to the rise of Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and other social networking sites, we have essentially become obsessed with sharing our lives with the rest of the world. Social media marketing is one of the most successful forms of advertising in 2017. Brands are learning how to infiltrate your news feeds and timelines, and you will rarely see a company that does not have a Facebook or Twitter link on their Contact Us page. Although social media is supposed to be about connecting with each other, I believe it has become a medium we use to advertise ourselves as who we want to be, not who we really are. We use social media to share our “edited selves” rather than our “authentic selves.” And no matter how much we deny it, all of us just want to be liked by others.
Therefore, the power of likability is extremely relative to how we portray ourselves on social media. We have become a society who gains instant gratification from new followers and likes on the last selfie we posted. We feel more confident in ourselves when someone leaves a comment on our page telling us how skinny we look, or #bodygoals. We are constantly seeking gratification from others – whether it be strangers online or our close friends – it’s become an unhealthy obsession.
It’s normal for us to feel good about ourselves when someone compliments us – why wouldn’t we smile and have a spark of happiness? Yet, we have become so dependent on relying on other’s for acceptance, that is has completely transformed the way we display ourselves online. We are desperately seeking that likability and status combo – we want to appear like we have an awesome life, but we also want people to tell us how great they think we are. Both popular and unpopular people go through this, as popular people seek to keep up their image, and unpopular people seek to repair theirs. Typically, the more we try to impress people with our amenities and advanced status, the unhappier we become.
I know it’s a sore subject, but how many times have you read about celebrities who have committed suicide or battled with depression? You would think the #LifestylesOfTheRichAndFamous (thanks Good Charlotte) are the ones with the happiest people since they attain everything that us plebes do not have. Do you see the pattern yet? Status does not equal happiness. Status does not equal happiness. Status does not equal happiness. If you were unpopular in high school and thought the “popular” kids had it all, think again.
In conclusion, it is important to realize that most people who are popular have a hard time achieving both likability and status. There are some, like the celebrities I mentioned earlier, who are definitely well-liked and well-accomplished. However, I think most of us automatically think of status first when thinking about success. When we think about “being successful,” we typically correlate it with material goods like nice cars, big houses, and designer clothes. In reality, most of us just want to live a life where they don’t hate their job, they don’t have to battle through a divorce, and they don’t have to face much confrontation. Whether that means living in an apartment in NYC or on a small ranch in Montana, your desire to be happy will be more dependent on how likable you are, rather than what social status you’ve acquired. In the end, isn’t happiness the greatest form of success?
Concentrate on your positive qualities rather than your impressive quantities.