As a technology writer, I hear (and experience) first-world problems every day:
- "Twitter's down."
- "Gmail's borked."
- "My phone battery died."
Any one of those issues is enough, in our day-to-day lives, to at least bug us, and sometimes they're enough to completely disrupt our professional or personal productivity. We can't get things done and we lash out at those we think are responsible. How dare service X fail us and interrupt our work?
You know, first-world problems.
Perhaps that's why I have recently come to the conclusion that Americans, as a group, have no perspective.
The Lack Of Perspective
When I take the time to step away from this over-wired world a bit, the very first thing I usually think of is just how silly all of this hullaballoo really can be. I mean, really, the $500 radio in my pocket just ran out of power and now I have to wait a whole half-hour to charge it again, and that's my big problem?
Smartphones bear much of the ire I have for first-world problems, if only because they exemplify those problems so well: We build a device that keeps us connected with the rest of the world (which we love/hate) and then freak out when said device is unavailable even for a moment.
Smartphones tie into what many people peg as American's big problem: We're too damn fixated on time. Events in our lives are timed to the minute, and any deviation from that mental schedule can cause great stress. Being a writer geared to deadlines, I fall into this trap all of the time.
Instead of living in the moment and enjoying where we are, we tend to focus on the next thing, the next place, the next job. We don't appreciate what we have and the time we spend with friends and family, slotted between hockey practice for Junior and the DVRed episodes of Downton Abbey we need to watch.
Here's a real example of how bad not appreciating what we have has gotten. And it involves one of our favorite things: not time, but money.
How Good Do You Really Have It?
Global Rich List is not a new site, but when my pastor mentioned it during his sermon last week, I thought I'd give it a whirl.
The idea behind the site is simple: type in your annual income in pounds, dollars (US or Canadian) or euros and the site will spit back your wealth rank compared with all the people on the planet.
I popped in my annual income, and found to my surprise that I am the 24,860,227th richest person in the world.
At first glance, that sounds depressing, doesn't it? But think that through a bit. 24.8 millionth-ish… on a planet with more than seven billion people. That puts me, a guy who fits squarely in the U.S. middle class, within the top 0.41% wealthiest people in the world.
It gets a bit worse. I added my wife's income, and suddenly there are only 3.9 million-with-an-m people in the world making more money than us.
Not Pride, Dismay And Embarassment
Be assured, the emotion I was feeling at this point is not pride. It's dismay, with quite a bit of embarrassment thrown in. All of the complaining I do about funds being tight and spending too much at the store seems foolish and arrogant when I think that 99.94% of the humans on planet Earth earn less than my family.
Pulling back that focus to the U.S. as a whole, and you can see why I think that people in our society need to get over themselves.
To give you an idea of just how rich Americans are, in Tuesday night's State of the Union address, President Obama said that a person with two kids working full time at minimum wage would fall below the poverty line, as defined here in the U.S. Full time at the U.S. $7.50 minimum wage is $15,000 annually.
According to Global Rich List, a person earning that salary would be the 726,528,729th richest person in the world, and still be in the top 12.1% of earners on Earth.
Sometimes it takes a change in perspective like this to make you re-think your priorities. I'm not going to shed my earthly possessions and live the life of a hermit, but already I have less acquisitiveness about "stuff" than I used to feel.
Appreciating what we have, be it things, time or the people around us, is definitely a better way to live than always wanting more. Because when you always want more, you will think you have less.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.