First World Problems

“Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.” Lao Tzu

Twice in the past week I’ve come across the term “first world problem,” which is a little odd, because it’s something I’ve been thinking about myself lately. (It’s fairly self-explanatory, but if you haven’t had your coffee yet, a “first world problem” is something the average middle or upper-class American would complain about, which would probably sound ridiculous to someone who struggles to eat or has limited or no access to things we take for granted.)

P-Diddles and I have sometimes talked about the idea of “real” problems when it comes to our kids. We are both sensitive to our children’s needs and emotions, and we try hard to be compassionate listeners and to honor our kids’ feelings. But there are some things that our kids complain about that are just not real problems, not when compared to things the majority of kids around the world are challenged with on a daily basis.

For example, my daughter pouting and stomping because, despite the fact that we have a refrigerator and pantry full of food, she can’t find something she likes to eat for breakfast. Not a real problem. Or the kids whining because they want to play longer, despite the fact that they get more playtime than 95% of the kids we know. Again, not a real problem. I’ve even said to my kids before, when it’s something that’s clearly a first-world-child’s issue, “Look, this is not a real problem. We are not going to throw a fit about not liking your soup when there are millions of kids in the world who are sleeping hungry tonight.”

Our kids are generally grateful. But when those kinds of complaints pop up I think, clearly, we need to expose our children to more hardship.

I think about this sometimes when it comes to things we adults whine about, too. Havarti and I once caught ourselves complaining about how slow our water dispenser was on our refrigerator. Yes, the water dispenser in the door of our plugged-in, well-stocked refrigerator, which spews out cold, fresh drinking water that we didn’t have to hike three miles to get. We felt really embarrassed and ashamed. A first world problem, for sure.

There are so many things we can find to complain about, aren’t there? Our dishwasher is too loud, we don’t have enough room in our cabinets, our vacation budget is too small, we have overdue library fines, we’re not passionate about our jobs, we’re getting gray hair, etc. etc. etc. First world problems. What is it with the need to complain? Do we subconsciously worry that if we are actually satisfied with everything that there will be nothing to shoot for? Is it purely a materialistic instinct?

Maybe we really do need problems and challenges. And maybe in the absence of the external and environmental difficulties that many in the world face, we find them where we can. Not to insinuate that none of our problems are real. That’s totally subjective, for the most part. Just philosophizing. I don’t have an answer.

The Lao Tzu quote above popped into my life this week as well, and it went right along with all of these thoughts. When I read it, I felt it was lovely, and very true, and very hard to accomplish for longer than a day. And perhaps the striving for more is a good thing, as long as it’s not solely directed at material pursuits. We’re supposed to try to improve ourselves, right? Gain knowledge, polish our character, grow spiritually, spread goodness, serve others . . . nothing wrong with striving for more of those things. But even at that, complaining about lacking in those areas is pretty pointless, since it rests on our own heads and hearts to do those things.

So is there even room for complaint in our lives? Is there any real point to complaining about anything at all? Does it really make us feel any better or help us accomplish anything? Are there truly things worth complaining about?

Maybe things that are truly sucky, and that we really have no control over. Like cancer. Or famine. Or greedy pharmaceutical companies. Or chin hairs.

I’m going to bed before I ramble any further. In my cozy bed, in my warm house, with my sweet, doting husband. No complaints here.

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Annie writes about life, motherhood, world issues, beautiful places, and anything else that tickles her brain. On good days, she enjoys juggling life with her husband and homeschooling her children. On bad days, she binges on chocolate chips and dreams of traveling the world alone.

Comments 6

  1. Ahh so true. Accustoming to hardship is something I’ve been thinking about a lot too… and I read this post just before a timely conversation with my husband about hot showers (just posted about it). Oh and I also love the breast post – I’m in a similar situation and cannot believe how AMAZING my little breasts are to have fed 2 kids for so long. I’ve been pregnant or breastfeeding for over 4 yrs now so unsure if they will go back to pre prego size but if they do, I’m sure I will remember your post 😉 Thanks!!

  2. Good to hear from you, too! I love your new post on the breasts. That is the one thing I mourn the most about not being able to have children is the awesomeness that I see when I see a mom breastfeeding her child. I want that 🙂

  3. Tawnya, it is easy to forget that all of those simple things – having food, shelter, love, work – are things to be grateful for. I’m glad these thoughts came at a good time for you. Where you put your focus really is the difference between happiness and sorrow a good chunk of the time. And good to hear from you! 🙂

  4. I have had what I deemed a really rough week here. But I’ve always had what I needed and gone to bed with food in my belly and a measure of warmth (I live in Alaska now so fill in the blanks there) with a job to wake up to go to in the morning that I love and a wonderful hubby of 16 years who loves me and I love him. There are negatives in every life. It’s what you choose to focus on that really matters. I prefer to count my blessings and not the coins in the bank or the clothes in the closet. Your blog post hit home at just the right time for me and I thank you, Annie!

    Tawnya Allen-McCraken

  5. True, Suzanne. And I think there’s a place beyond even gratitude that helps with that deep down sense of contentment. There’s this quote from the Baha’i writings that I always try to keep in mind:

    “The trials which beset our every step, all our sorrow, pain, shame and grief, are born in the world of matter; whereas the spiritual Kingdom never causes sadness. A man living with his thoughts in this Kingdom knows perpetual joy. The ills all flesh is heir to do not pass him by, but they only touch the surface of his life, the depths are calm and serene.” – ‘Abdu’l-Baha

  6. I think what Lao Tzu is getting at is that we should try to spend more time focusing on the great things we have instead of what we don’t. If we can do that – even in the face of cancer or famine – then we are truly rich and fulfilled.

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