First world problems are unique to the privileged, yet unknown to the underserved.

Happiness is a relative term, especially in the USA. There are some people who have enough of an inward fire that they will be able to see the silver lining despite the most adverse circumstances. There are others, however, no matter how good things are going, who will find something to complain or be miserable about. This is a commentary on humans in general and there are many grades of separation in between the two extremes.

Americans in particular are special because we are now living in the wealthiest country in the history of the world. From a monetary standpoint, one would therefore think that we have very little to complain about. Valid surveys on overall American happiness are lacking, but common sense tells us that most people are not bubbling over with enthusiasm, especially after the financial crisis. Despite negativity, the reader should keep the following statistics in mind:

  • According to the US Census Bureau, in 2011 the median household income in the USA was $50,054.
  • According the World Bank, a person earning $50,054 a year would be in the Top 1% of all wage earners in the entire world.
  • There were over 5 million millionaires living in the USA at of the end of 2012.
  • Over half of the world population (more than 3 billion people) lives on less than $2.50 a day; American consumption averages about $100 a day.
  • If you made $5000 a year, you would still be in the Top 15% of wage earners in the entire world.
  • The World Bank says the richest 20% of the world’s population accounts for 75% of its private consumption; the poorest 20% accounts for 1.5% of its private consumption.

These figures do put things in perspective. The typical “poor” American is wealthy compared to the rest of the world. Alas, in this country we have misplaced many of our priorities and submitted to the consumptive philosophy of capitalism—we erroneously think bigger is better and that more is inherently good. This mentality roots itself in our minds and establishes a never-ending cycle of comparing, upgrading, expanding, and consuming more, which leads to comparison on a higher level. We use the celebrity, boss, co-worker, or neighbor as a benchmark for “happiness” so that if we could only get “it” then we would be content (After all, they do look better, are thinner, drive a better car and live in a bigger house than I do—and by the way their spouse looks better too). The irony is, once we do acquire “it” there’s another bigger, better “it” that someone else now has. The bottom line is, comparison is the enemy of content. Every person should instead turn inward, destroying the preoccupation with what everyone else is doing and what the next person has acquired. Happiness should not be relative to someone or something else; rather, being truly content entails finding comfort in the circumstances we are in. Our affluent society is better off than the rest, and it is the rest that has a true perception of destitution—they have a genuine awareness of what real luxuries are in life.

So, next time you’re watching reality TV, or surfing the pretend happy realities on social media, one should consider intent: society propagates extravagant lifestyles in order to establish a point of comparison, driving us to consume and reach higher. People feel compelled to play into the game and present an existence that is as refined and happy as possible in the name of keeping up appearances. Many in this world go hungry, lack something as simple as an indoor bathroom, have no access to clean water, and a “roof” is a foreign concept. It makes all of the “issues” that we perceive as “burdens” first world problems. Can’t decide whether to upgrade to an iPhone 5 or a 4S? First World Problem. The BMW 7 Series of the Audi S Series? FWP. The 3,000 square foot condo with views of the water or the penthouse closer to work? FWP. Fiji or New Zealand? FWP. Can’t decide how to change allocations in your Roth 401k? FWP. Having trouble figuring out which private suite you’ll use for the elective C-Section? FWP.


 Dr. C.H.E. Sadaphal



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  1. Liza says:

    So technically I am “rich” even thought I feel very “poor”. this morning I chipped a nail on the way to work. First World Problem!

  2. JP says:

    The way this country is heading we won’t be first world for much longer … hope you can speak Mandarin.

  3. Chase says:

    Even more relative is the fact that the value of the dollar has plummeted since the 1950s and the wages have pretty much remained static since the 80s. There was a time when a family of four could get by comfortably on one salary, when a student truly could “work” their way through college without assuming hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt, when getting a college degree actually meant you would land a solid job. Society is shifting so that you absolutely need to be at least somewhat well off to keep your head above water.

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