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Jenn's main blog

First world problems, or are they?

Jenn Shallvey

Today I was listening in the car to my local radio station and had a laugh. The lighter topic of the morning was about ‘first world problems’.  Now if you have not heard of this concept before here’s a quick snapshot.  Such problems are those that can occur in developed societies, cultures and countries with high standards of living.  First world societies can afford non essentials, luxuries, conveniences. When looked at objectively in the bigger context of including the problems of those in both second and third world societies, a ‘first world problem’ can then appear trivial and not worth complaining about. In other words the phrase is used to give someone a bit of perspective.

Examples abound. The one being shared on the radio to start the conversation was about how an ill fitted cup lid affected the radio hosts ability to drink her coffee.  Others followed.  I liked the one about an app not downloading fast enough on one’s smartphone.  

Time to reflect
So of course I paused for reflection, as I do, to consider my own experience with first world problems.  My life is potentially filled with such issues. It might be frustration when technology does not work properly  or electronic devices slow down.  Then there are the more basic aspects of living, such as electricity and other utilities, transportation, convenient food choices, that can easily be taken for granted.   When things we take for granted don’t work then everyone hears about it.  The potential for problems to pop up is truly there.

Yet, the potential for such problems to exist is just that - potential.  These disruptions only become problems when we choose to name them as such.  We choose to see the negative in a situation thus escalating it to an issue.  First world problems highlight our propensity for seeing what’s wrong before we see what’s right.  It is almost habitual in society for us to name the problem as soon as we see it. Armchair critics seek attention for their whinges.  It is like a bad habit, an addiction, considering how easy it is for us to jump into the blame and name game.  So if perspective is a choice why do we choose to see these as problems at all?

Deeper perspective
Then there is the slightly deeper level of analysis. Yes I have to go there.  When we focus on such problems and devote attention, time and effort we are taking these personal resources from other areas of our life.  We can at times distract ourselves from what we truly need to look at.  It is also possible to then discover we are merely avoiding and hiding from what really matters in our life. It is easy to talk and chat about the small issues in life. It’s superficial and trivial.  To go beyond this level of conversation is what takes courage and real presence.  

In the payoff we get different outcomes as well. When we focus on the trivial and bury the meaningful we get the same in response.  Then we wonder why what really matters to us stays stuck and unchanged or even worse.  First world problems are like red flags indicating that there are other matters needing attention.

Rise above
Irrespective of how you look at the situation the fact is there will be days when things you count on work and days that they don’t.  As we live in a more complex society we then end up increasing our exposure to such challenges.    It takes an evolved mindset and way of being to not let such disruptions or segways in your day become more than they need to be.  I admit this is something to always be learning in our human journey.

A sign of our own personal maturity can be seen in our response to first world problems. When you realise you are in such a scenario, you can shift your paradigm and see the bigger picture. But what happens to your perspective?  You can go in one direction that results in you feeling guilty about what we have and others don’t, so you shut up.  On the other hand you can see this as an opportunity to be grateful for what we do have, and appreciate that our lifestyle affords us the ability to have the product, services etc that give rise to such issues.  

Reality check
Yet on a more practical level we need a way of handling ourselves that is both healthy and constructive for all.  A suggestion might be to take a moment to reflect on whether what you consider a problem is worth worrying about.  Will the effort of taking this issue further actually benefit anyone?  If not then why carry on about it?

When you stop and really think about it, first world problems only matter if you make them matter. Then what?  Do you feel a greater sense of satisfaction?  What if you were to focus on the experience and what you are enjoying rather than the problem. Maybe that would get rid of a majority of these problems.    Instead of seeing the half empty glass version of a situation think of the positive side. Whether we choose to see problems or otherwise is just the starting point to a healthier and happier way of being.

Refocus your energy
By freeing ourselves of the problems that really don’t matter to us we can then focus our energy on the ones that do. Because challenges are part of life I do not dismiss the existence of problems. Yet it is far better for all that our attention be less divided and more grounded when we do then take the time to address what is not working and really needs attention.

And with the bonus of our freed up attention you may just see that the problem is in fact an opportunity. Maybe this opportunity will be a real life learning experience, a time to make a decision to go in the direction of your true desires, a chance to clear the air in a relationship or stand up for what you believe in to be true.

So the next time you want to complain or consider your situation dire pause and ask yourself some questions. Is this a first world problem, and if so does this really matter that much to me or anyone else to pursue further? If so, is there another way for me to look at this situation? Is it REALLY a problem or not?  Only you can decide how you want to see these situations.  

Then perhaps out of these myriad of first world problems you may discover a few genuine opportunities that will benefit from your attention.   And the next time you have a cup of coffee and the lid isn’t working - take it off. Then pause for a moment and appreciate the people, innovation, resources, time, effort and experiences it took to get that brew in a cup to enjoy at your convenience.