“I have too much money in my wallet and it hurts my butt when I sit.”-A Twitter post, author unknown
First world problem is a slang term that refers to issues in First World nations that people are complaining about only because of the absence of more pressing concerns. The term was added to the Oxford Online Dictionary in November 2012. Initially, reviewing a list of some of these First World problems is humorous. Here’s a few:
⦁ “There’s no room in the refrigerator for these leftovers.”
⦁ “My TV doesn’t have HD.”
⦁ “I just spent $200 on groceries and don’t feel like eating any of it.”
⦁ “My car is in the shop, so I have to drive my truck to work.”
⦁ “I ordered a large latte at Starbucks and the idiot gave me a medium.”
⦁ “I have lost so much weight I need to buy new clothes.”
⦁ “I dropped my iPhone, it landed on my iPad and cracked it.”
⦁ “I left my jacket in the car.”
⦁ “I can’t find the remote!!!!!”
In 1943, psychologist Abraham Maslow proposed in “A Theory of Human Motivation,” a model for basic human needs. His theory is that people are motivated, first and foremost, to satisfy fundamental survival needs, then safety needs, followed by the need for connection and affiliation, the need for self-esteem, and then have a possibility of developing their fullest human potential. His model is often depicted as a pyramid, prioritizing these needs from bottom to top:
If we are brutally honest with ourselves, I’m sure we’ll all find that we engage in this complaining about First World problems quite frequently. There’s virtually no way around it, we all do it from time to time. It would seem that in the 21st century, man has developed a basic need to complain. Complaining makes us feel significant and important in a world that has great capacity to make us feel the exact opposite. While it’s fairly normal to complain now and again, too much complaining can have a deleterious effect on ones mental health. We live in a culture where whining about First World problems has become so common that we don’t even notice it. Think about it for moment, two of the biggest health problems in the United States today are weight problems and diseases caused by a sedentary lifestyle.
The reality is that those of us who live in the first world complain more than any time in human history. We have the luxury to do so because we are not spending our day trying to satisfy that first level of Maslow’s hierarchy. Our time is freed up to be bored, disempowered, and creative in our ability to find things to complain about. And, in the absence of real problems, we find insignificant things to complain about to create a sense of self-importance. Complaining about things that we cannot solve, or will not solve, leads to a personality style that lacks the ability to take responsibility for one’s actions, creating a sense of learned helplessness.
Prioritizing what we complain about is the first step in coping with this modern tendency. If it’s something that cannot be solved, then acceptance is the answer. If the problem can’t be solved, then complaining and whining is useless and unhealthy. If it is something that can be resolved, then taking action, even if you fail, is empowering and far more emotionally healthy. People who take action steps to resolve problems in their lives tend to take more responsibility for their feelings, as well as their actions, creating better self-esteem, resiliency, and mental health.
Next time you find yourself perseverating about some injustice that the world has done to you, ask yourself some important questions:
⦁ “Can something be done to resolve this?”
⦁ “Can I do something about this?”
⦁ “Do I really need to do something about this?”
⦁ “Is this a First World problem?”
Developing an awareness of the things that you complain about and deciding how much energy you expend on these things is a healthy way to develop self-esteem. Maslow considered self-esteem to be one of the highest levels of human achievement. You’re not going to get there complaining about First World problems.
“To the man who only has a hammer, everything he encounters begins to look like a nail.”-Abraham Maslow