Keep life’s First World problems in perspective


Not too long ago, we used to say “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” but now there’s a hashtag for that: #FirstWorldProblems. But unlike its sweaty predecessor, the #FWP hashtag has made me very thoughtful about exactly what real problems are.

For instance, I was standing in the grocery store produce section looking for Honeycrisp apples. On the day in question, they happened to be out. All around me, there were piles of beautiful jewel-toned fruits and vegetables, like the Sultan’s treasure chest: heaps of red, yellow and green apples, towers of orange and yellow citrus, stacks of green vegetables. But no Honeycrisps anywhere. I walked out empty handed because I couldn’t get what I wanted. In the car, driving to the next grocery store, it occurred to me how ridiculous it was that I could buy literally anything I wanted in that store, but I wasn’t willing to accept a substitute and was instead using gas and time to drive a few more miles.

That’s a #firstworldproblem.

How many people in the world would give anything for one crisp, juicy apple of any description? Or for any food at all?

That brings me to a dichotomy. Somewhere in Charleston, as I write this, there are people doing any number of things to try to lose weight.

At the same time, someone’s getting a doggie bag to go at some restaurant because the food portions are so large.

How is it possible we’ve reached a place as a society that we can overeat to the point that we become 25, 50, 100 pounds or more overweight? That we live in a society in which contestants on a show like “The Biggest Loser” seem normal?

That’s a #firstworldproblem.

I’ve always noticed when traveling in Europe that I can immediately spot Americans, because they are so heavy compared to the locals. I usually get close enough to hear them talk, and I’m always right. But in many places in the world, there isn’t enough food available to stave off hunger, much less become overweight.

In fact, there are people in Charleston right now whose bellies grumble with hunger and who do not know where their next meal is coming from. How did this happen?

Do you know how much time I spent worrying that I would not get the Spoleto “Porgy & Bess” tickets that I was charged with getting for a group? An embarrassing amount.

But I got them, and looking back, it seems ridiculous that I spent so much energy on something which, in the grand scheme of life, is pretty trivial. We’ve forgotten how to separate mere disappointment from things that actually matter.

So the store is out of Himalayan Pink Salt hand soap and you have to buy Almond Vanilla. You forgot to charge your cell phone and now it’s dead until you get home from work tonight. Your flight was delayed and it took you six extra hours to get there. And let’s not forget the most egregious blow of all: “Downton Abbey” was canceled!

How can we possibly survive these calamities? I have to keep reminding myself ... these are #firstworldproblems, which is to say, not really problems at all.

Imagine how people with real problems such as going to bed hungry, not having clean water to drink much less bathe in, or sleeping under a bridge feel knowing that’s all we have to get upset about. These people are our neighbors, they exist here in our first world, and we should all try to use a little perspective when whining about our petty problems.

Or, as we used to say, don’t sweat the small stuff; save it for things that matter.

Diane Rice works as a full-time paralegal and a part-time house museum docent. She and her husband, Jim, live in West Ashley.