We’ve grown used to belittling things that don’t seem important to us right now – this is understandable but counterproductive. Just because an issue isn’t connected to life or death doesn’t mean it doesn’t cause genuine pain or isn’t worth thinking about. The problems of rich countries are for the most part complicated and serious and the ones everyone is going to face in about 300 years.
First world problems are central issues of philosophy and politics because everyday we are fighting to get richer so lets understand the problems that come with or undermine this struggle:
1. Not having enough – we don’t decide if we have enough by asking ourselves what we need or comparing our material possessions with those of parents or grandparents and we don’t compare ourselves to poor countries. We ask whether we have enough by looking at people around us in immediate vicinity and people we see on tv. Our happiness is comparative and relative by nature. Advertising shows there is more we could have and that others already do…enormous part of why rich countries can be unhappy. Wealth matters to happiness but only up to a point
2. We’re stressed – rich countries have productive economies but this is responsible for odd and pervasive cause of modern unhappiness…being stressed. USA is most productive economy is also by far the most stressed place to live.
We work hard partly because were afraid…thanks to recessions, rise of service jobs, and global competition. Typical job is 15 months.
3. Property troubles – everything in rich countries gets cheaper year by year except for your house. this impacts everything…but commuting times in particular. Commuting is least liked part of working day but we’re doing it more because distance between work and affordable home increases in rich countries.
4. Tiredness – partly as a result of stress and commuting, we are exhausted. We get too tired to cook, read, and exercise. Drinking doesn’t help – alcohol is the leading relaxant. We watch porn and are often disappointed by quality of real relationships.
5. Relationships – crucial to happiness. Divorce rates are very high in rich countries. Also large percentage of unhappy though un-divorced seriously think of leaving but fear separation would be even worse.
6. Loneliness – many people say they’re very or desperately lonely. Loneliness is a side effect of wealth creation – in poor countries you can’t easily survive on your own but in rich places people move for work, the economic unit shifts away from the family, the workplace takes over…then lets you down.
7. Ugliness – rich world is better at tearing up natural habitats and turning them into soulless, ugly cities. Quality of the environment is in top 3 concerns of people in the rich countries but we haven’t found a convincing, collective way to articulate how much beauty matters to us and how sad the present ugliness has made us.
What is to be done?
Solutions are not primarily financial instead about psychology and ideas.
1. Change the dials – we measure GDP, inflation, unemployment which are attempts at knowing if our lives are getting better. But for all our expertise, we don’t have indices around quality of relationships, national stress levels, incidents of envy, amount of hugs, number of random acts of kindness.
2. Change the media – the news should focus our collective efforts on psychological indicators…but it makes money from scaring and exciting us. Makes us imagine a world more violent and disastrous and unstable than it really is and at same time inhabited by more talented, smarter and sexier people than it is. This is a poor starting point for grasping our own needs and could lead to craving more protection and security and more money, excitement and stimulation.
3. Replace religion – traditionally religion gave authority and glamour to non material values. It taught one how to be kind and have spiritual values. Today, we cant rely on organized religion to do this. A good society needs people to celebrate money but also just as many ready to celebrate non material things like kindness, forgiveness, and calm
4. Change the curriculum – need new system of education to promote psychological wisdom. We need to learn how to live and die well.
5. Build better cities – We need to construct tight, compact cities with elegance of Edinburgh, SF and Heidelberg and get house prices down
Lack of money isn’t the problem in the first world, it is, broadly speaking, a lack of wisdom