First World Problems

Some of my friends back in the United States have a sort of mildly ironic tag that they put on stories about their problems, like having too many raisins in their raisin bran (this is not a problem for me, incidentally enough, because the raisins are the best part), or buying an awesome game and then not realizing they needed to buy an external controller to use it. They call these sorts of problems first world problems. I’m not sure what I think about this, as I’ve never been the kind of person to think of my problems as being particularly “first world” in nature (and in Thailand, many of the problems I have, such as finding food, are decidedly non “first world.”).

Everyone has problems. From the poorest Somali refugee escaping famine and trying to keep their children alive in the midst of a politically inspired famine in a horrible camp in Northern Kenya to the wealthiest billionaire, everyone has problems to deal with. These problems cause the same feelings of anger and irritation and annoyance whatever kind of problems they are. At least until I started seeing the tag #firstworldproblems on posts, I did not stop to think which of my problems were first world and which were not. But it’s a worthwhile exercise anyway.

Finding enough food to eat in the day is not a first world problem. I would say that it it is a “third world problem.” Basic survival is taken for granted in most of the west, but in my life for long stretches at a time, this has not been the case. The basic needs of food, clothing and shelter are not things I take for granted. Not when my socks are constantly getting shredded (with replacements hard to find) [1], not when floods threaten logistical networks and cut off food supplies for weeks at a time to supermarkets where I am (thankfully I’m not dealing with that problem) [2], and not when one is facing eviction and wondering if it is preferable to live in a car or with one’s family (as I had to deal with last year). These are not first world problems, because they strike at basic needs.

Where problems start to become first world problems is when they cease to be about basic survival and sustenance and start moving into the level of convenience. For example, my laptop computer is hungry for power cords and basically melts them until they don’t function anymore. I have a terrible time finding plugs that will work. This is a first world problem since laptops are a luxury and not necessary to life. The fact that some students of mine come from villages without electricity and that have to face the dilemmas of building dams across rivers or remaining without power is not a first world problem [3j. Going to a restaurant and finding there are no bottles of wine, as happened to my lunch party in Mae Hong Son, is a first world problem. Not having enough potable water to drink and bathe is not a first world problem.

It is pleasant that many of my friends only have first world problems to deal with, such as going to the restaurant and being served sweet tea with lemon rather than without as one specifically ordered (as was a common first world problem of mine when I was able to go out to restaurants a lot). That means life is good. When one has those kinds of problems, it means that everything less than that is taken care of, and we should be glad to have such problems. The more fundamental our problems, the more they are at the basic levels of making life possible or worthwhile–love, belonging, safety, and food, water, shelter, and clothing needs, the worse our life is on an objective material level. Some of us aren’t particularly materialistic people, but one can’t escape problems either by acquiring or renouncing possessions.

Instead, one must cultivate the right mindset about dealing with problems. Whether one is dealing with problems like too many raisins in the raisin bran or not being sure if the loud noises are from backfiring vehicles, fireworks from overenthusiastic neighbors, or guns, one’s mindset for dealing with problems is the same. First, we must recognize that problems of some kind are inevitable because this world and the people in it are not perfect. They do not always listen to what we say, or do what we want, whether we are rich or poor or in whatever part of the world we may be. Additionally, we must be able to distinguish between those problems that are serious (and that may be long-term in nature) and those problems that are passing and insignificant, and not be too frustrated about the little things when far bigger matters are at stake. Those of us who are privileged to deal with first world problems ought to be glad, for it will be a dark day when we are all dealing with third world problems like finding enough food to eat or shelter over our heads. That’s when we know the dark times for us have arrived.




About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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18 Responses to First World Problems

  1. Thanks once again, Nathan. Good point on making that clarification. Until the comfort zone America either experiences famine or living in “third” world countries would perhaps appreciate and be thankful for what they have. Not limited to the the spoiled-rotten generation, I hold accountable those problematic ones that are the “adults” because they live by example, be it good or bad, and consequently influence the younger generations. First, there is a difference between a tourist and those living abroad. Apparently, you as an American currently live/work overseas thereby dwell outside the box, allowing you to look in and thus see both worlds that only cause you to appreciate what you have that other countries do not have. Lived/studied overseas myself, I now see the difference in which you termed “first” world problems, in contrast to those I have experienced in the war zones whose homes are being bulldozed and families separated or nowhere to be found. In terms of “too much” raisins, how the people back home do make crises over nothing. Contrasting what is termed “limited” good that is so foreign to the ears in America, our abundant resources could either make us gluttonous or bored due to so much varieties of goods. Yet, to those people around the world which constantly experience malnourishment or starvation, they could only think, “the more, the merrier!” So what is then the issue here at home? Mind over matter: the mentality as to “how” the people here respond to their abundant resources. It is quite clear that in the case of the “first” world problem, the crisis is rather in the mind. For example, this would seem to be an exaggeration but in all honesty, it is a crisis when women break a nail, or due to their finickiness, the wall paint “has to exactly” match the floor or ceiling or else, “Off with your head.” How tragic it is to make a career or lifestyle out of nothing that is petty or trivial. They would rather that as a 911 crisis, but in reality cancer is so rampant around here anymore. One of ]four gets it due to the stress they put on themselves because the tendency of those that make mountains over molehills are in reality what kill them rather than the other way around. Discontent with “I want it now” mentality for taking things for granted, does it then make you and I wonder as to why, and I do not mean countries in the midst of war zones, but rather societies outside the country live that simplistic lives, although look rather poor yet live longer for not dying over the small stuffs?

    • Indeed, you understood the point I was making. Yes, I live and work overseas, in Thailand. This is the first time I have ever spent an extended time abroad, though I saw the same phenomenon when I was in Africa for three weeks teaching computers. There is a different mindset when you go into a nation on a work project and when you go as a tourist (at least, it is different for me). Here in Thailand life is far more advanced than it was in Ghana, where we did not have running water when the power was not on (and the power was off most of the time, sometimes for more than a day at a time). That is clearly a “third world problem.” At any rate, there are a lot of people who stress over very minor and insignificant problems that are crises largely because people don’t know how to put them into a larger context. So long as we are able to deal with first world problems, life is going pretty well. A society that fumes over such trivial problems, though, is not one that is likely to be able to handle third world problems very well, and and when such times come.

      • I agree that Thailand, although I have never been there, is much more advanced than Ghana. Interesting that you might note the enormous difference, somehow there is something about Africa. Like you experienced as tourist in Egypt, it didn’t take long for me to notice its impoverished state, and I mean direly desperate that although not beggars turned anything into opportunities. For example, when I was cruising the Nile beginning with Luxor, I would embark and disembark with the townspeople awaiting the visitors from the west including myself. It appeared as if they were there to greet us like the Hawaiians putting leis over tourists, but in reality what they wanted were money. Coming out of the ship as we docked on the harbors, I remember walking over the board they laid across and what the townspeople did was that they would reach out to hold my hand so that I did not slip and fall on the water.

      • That’s very remarkable. The same was true about Ghana. Into every town and village we went when I was in Ghana the children would yell ‘o-bruni’ and start looking for a handout. One would think that if such industriousness was turned to useful purposes and societal corruption dealt with that they might be the ones giving largesse instead of looking for it.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I agree with both of you and I personally see that the majority of the “first world” problems stem directly from “convenience”. Convenience has made the younger generation “lazy” and expect too much, while taking EVERYTHING for “granted”.

    A little, even a lot of trouble obtaining a thing makes it better appreciated. Am I saying that humanity needs to, or should shrink back into the dark ages? No. I am saying that the condition of “appreciation” which is synonymous with “worship”, is near to being a lost attribute or whatever you want to call it. This “lack of appreciation” IS humankind’s worst problem, and that appreciation being synonymous with worship, shows clearly that humanity’s worst problem IS a lack of WORSHIP. Mix together a lack of worship with an acceptence of absurdism and we have atheism.

    Absurdism: “The Absurd” refers to the conflict between the human tendency to seek value and meaning in life and the human inability to find any. In this context absurd does not mean “logically impossible,” but rather “humanly impossible

    • A lack of perspective is certainly a symptom (or perhaps even a cause) of a lack of appreciation. And yes, this does mean a decline in gratitude and an attitude of thanksgiving for God and gratitude for others (parents, for example) who have helped provide a comfortable lifestyle for most of my generation (though, sadly, not for me). However, in order to be thankful for what we have we must either experience or imagine being without out, which then gives us some kind of means of recognizing that what we have is a gift beyond what we deserve or have any cause to expect or demand from the world (which is essentially uncaring about our desires and needs). As a result, man attempts to find meaning in the self, being in rebellion against the divine order and unaware of any need to profess allegiance to Him.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I quit

  4. Part II. My Egyptian Experience: Not that I was incapable in terms of safety, the point here is that in agreement with the above commentator, the people back home are slack, and too busy complaining but in truth expressing their laziness while the townspeople I realized as opportunists in a sense turned their sad state of condition into opportunities. But note the difference of intentions compare to these folks and the ones back home. True that they were annoying and seemed unfair that as guests seemed being robbed instead though I found this experience to be irritating for constantly hitting me up with money. Comparing the modern Egyptian mindset to the new breed of lazy generations let alone do not want to think, in reality is about survival. In order to provide for them and their families, it was imperative for them to somehow obtain the means obviously from visitors around the world, especially the west. If we think for a moment, everyone at some point experienced hunger since we are all humans, be it first or third world. But how would we feel if we were left starving? What is the next step? It is one thing to kill for food out of survival, while it is another to do so out of greed. The have nots that have the least turn out to receive with gratitude, while those that do have would rather gripe and by the way this includes the homeless in America due to discontent simply because their abundance are never enough.

    • That is a serious question, but most people in the West who are faced with the need to provide themselves seek opportunities to do something useful to provide for themselves and if possible for their families. They seek to turn their skills and abilities and talents into something productive. Begging is not productive labor at all–it simply redistributes money from those who have an excess to those who have a (perceived) need. What we need more of, worldwide, is an understanding of what kind of mutually beneficial labor is required to make life better for ourselves even as it provides some kind of benefit to others as well. Our contemporary societies around the world are not doing a good job at making this known and plain. But when unprofitable businesses and nations about to go under for debt start going around looking for handouts like beggars on the Luxor shore, how can people overburdened by mortgage or student loan debt be told to act any differently?

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