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Sacrificing happiness for status

Note: This post appeared in a previous newsletter of mine, but has not been published online before today.

Yesterday I listened to a Swedish podcast documentary about the "satanist murders," a story about the satanist and death metal movements in Norway and Sweden during the 90's, and how they resulted in many churches burning down and murders taking place. The documentary does a really good job of describing how the subculture of death metal got a progressively darker undertone, and how it soon was a battle between different bands and constellations within the subculture, about who was more "true". In this context, true means that you are serious about your dedication to death and satanism. An example of being true could be to slaughter animals, burn down a church, cutting yourself, or, as things escalated, killing yourself or someone else.

This got me thinking about why the people involved, young people in their twenties, did these things. Why would you want to drink blood, kill and behead a rabbit, or cut yourself with a broken bottle during a live performance? Why would you want to get into rivalry with people who used to be your friends, up to the point where someone gets stabbed to death with a knife? The answer is, in my own analysis, as well as according to the reporter in the documentary: Status and fame. If you show to the world that you are the most badass, the most true satanist, you will have the highest status within your group.

I believe this is the same reason as why someone would join ISIS or a criminal gang. Life conditions are pretty miserable, but you belong to a powerful group. This in itself gives you status. These groups are often rigged so that you are motivated to keep going by the hopes of gaining even higher status. Maybe you can climb a rung or two? Maybe you can become a great leader within the group itself?

These are extreme examples of course. Most of us are not involved in satanic death cults, ISIS, or criminal gangs. But many of us sacrifice happiness to some degree to pursue status. I was going to write a really long blog post about this. About the reason why many billionaires continue working so hard, sacrificing time with family and friends, sacrificing health and happiness. Because it is the same mechanism at work here as in the satanic death cults; our tendency as a species to pursue status rather than happiness.

But I'm not going to write that blog post today, because I discovered someone else already did, and in a great way. Ben Casnocha, a prominent figure within the entrepreneurship community in Silicon Valley, has written an article about this paradox between happiness and pursuit of status. I recommend reading that article for some food for thought, about what is really important in our lives, and how we can balance ambition and happiness, so that we can have a little of both. I think Casnocha gives some great tips there at the end. But read the whole thing, it is a thought provoking read.

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