First World Problems Are Just As Important As Third World Problems

Whenever someone is feeling bad, one of the standard responses is “it could always be worse.” And that’s true. A teenager living in the Western world can hardly be the most miserable person on this planet, so if her mother suddenly dies, you could say that at least she still has a father. The same goes for someone who is severely depressed. Maybe he doesn’t have it all that great right now, but at least he has food. So should he even be complaining or should he realise that other people have it worse?

Relativising your problems isn’t always bad, but there is such a thing as taking it too far. It would be stupid to pretend like depression isn’t an issue just because the person suffering from it lives in the Western world, and thinking like that isn’t going to solve anything. It will only make that person feel worse, as if what they’re going through isn’t important. As if they are just attention seekers making an issue out of nothing.

The truth is that our problems are relative, but in a different way. It doesn’t matter that someone out there has it worse, because that will always be the case. No matter who you are, you will always have problems, and to you, as an individual, those will feel just as intense as the problems people experience in third world countries. That isn’t a bad thing. That’s just how humans work, and convincing yourself that your problems don’t matter isn’t the way to go. It’s unfair to yourself, because your problems are important. And they need to be resolved.

Just today I read a post from someone explaining how awful things are in Nigeria. She had about two full paragraphs of all the things Nigeria struggles with, from an incredibly high infant mortality rate to slavery and human rights, and after that, she came to a conclusion. She concluded that whenever we feel down because of one of our first world problems, we should think about Nigeria and realise how blessed we are. How lucky we are not to live out there.

But that’s rubbish. Of course we’re lucky, but that doesn’t change the fact that we can still feel sad. We won’t ever know what it’s like to live like that, and even if we did, our brains have the amazing ability to make us forget. Just think of the worst pain you ever experienced: you won’t be able to imagine it anymore, because your brain doesn’t allow you to. To marginalise your problems just because you feel like you should is like picking a fight with your brain. Your brain tries to protect you from that sort of thinking, and it’s not doing that for no reason.

This particular girl ended up talking about guilt. She felt guilty for complaining about her problems now that she knew how bad things were in Nigeria. But what’s the use of that? How will that improve anything? That sort of thinking is dangerous, because it’s what keeps people stuck in depression. It’s what holds them back from seeking help because they feel like their problems aren’t important enough. As if they’re complaining over nothing.

Ultimately, we need to realise that problems are indeed relative to the situation you’re in, but also that that in no way means that “first world problems” aren’t real problems. Depression is a serious issue, even if you do have food on your table, and the fact that LGBT-rights in Russia are abysmal doesn’t mean they aren’t an issue in the West. And yes, even a flat tire, bad customer service or the fact that you can’t buy a better TV are problems. They are your problems, and because of that, they matter. It is important to try and deal with them, to find help if that’s possible, even if you’re not yet starving to death. Because you should never compare your own problems to someone else’s. You can only compare them to your own.


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More on this topic from Dean Richards:

It’s Fantastic That 85 People Have The Wealth Of 3,5 Billion

Being Selfless Is Extremely Selfish

The Forgotten Continent: LGBT Rights in Africa


About Dean Richards

A young student with a passion for writing. Aspiring author and human rights activist, but I write about anything. "If you don't like how things are, change it! You're not a tree!" New blog post every Monday!
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3 Responses to First World Problems Are Just As Important As Third World Problems

  1. Marianne says:

    Very touching article, Dean. It seems like cynicism is our first-world response to anything these days. I think that that has a lot to do with guilt. Turn on your TV, radio, check the newspapers: climate change, human rights infringement, child labour – as Hank Green so gracefully put it, “we are all President Snow”. On every one of our shoulders weighs the guilt of either exploiting others, or not acting for change. Now, I’m not saying that we, as individuals, are blameworthy of everything that goes wrong in the world, of course, but as a wealthy, capitalist society that is kind of the case. So we feel the need to diminish our own problems, take them cynically, because really we don’t feel allowed to even complain.
    Bit of a shame that I choose to read an article of yours that I actually agree with, but hey, this is me taking part in the conversation. LOVE.

    • I absolutely agree. As a wealthy, capitalist society we are one big “President Snow”, the only problem being that you can’t organise all of society to change anything. And not everyone is able to, without seriously hurting themselves (an American living on the minimum wage can’t really go and send money or food to Africa…).

      So when it comes to Hank Green’s quote, perhaps it would be more accurate to say that all of us taken together are President Snow. Except perhaps we’re less evil, but that probably depends on the way you look at it.

      Also, I think you might agree with quite a few of the things I write, just as long as the topic isn’t related to nationalism 😛 Although I definitely appreciate your disagreement!

      Anyway, thanks for the comment! 😉

  2. Hi there, just wanted to say, I loved this blog post.
    It was helpful. Keep on posting!

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