THE LONG REACH OF POPULARITY
You distinguish between two types of popularity-likability and status
Likability begins to matter in early childhood, it's based on helping others, creating harmony, and offering supportive leadership. Status becomes relevant only in adolescence, when the reward centers in our brains more acutely crave attention and visibility. Findings suggest that those high in status as adolescents are more prone to risky behavior and relationship difficulties, at least through early adulthood. They have a lifetime of longing for that kind of popularity.
Some of the benefits of likability
There's a bias in favor of likable people in every sphere-not just in relationship, but in job recruitment for example. Likable people also enjoy longer and healthier lives. We should try to avoid low levels of either likability or status. Our brains are programmed to be attuned to popularity. In the days of our ancestors, being excluded from the herd led to physical injury. Because our bodies still react the way they did then if we ever thing about being unpopular, we start preparing for potential injury with a system-wide inflammatory response.
What we can do to start reining in a desire for status?
There's research demonstrating that certain parts of the brain respond to the quick fix of getting likes, having followers and being noticed. But there's also evidence that helping others and feeling connected activated the same brain centers. Since both situations scratch the same itch, it's helpful to steer kids and adults toward seeking the more adaptive form of popularity.
People who were unpopular in school should rethink their experience
Being unpopular as a child does not doom you to a life of unhappiness. Certain kinds of suffering in youth can actually provide some psychological superpowers in adulthood, allowing a person to be a bit more sensitive to others and attentive to cues in a way that might have lifelong benefits, far outweighing a few years of adolescent despair.