Unless you do not have a Twitter or Facebook account, chances are that you have heard of or seen the phrase, “first world problems.” This phrase — which highlights the minor inconveniences of a privileged society — has had such an influence that blogs and spinoff phrases such as “college student problems” and “white girl problems” have resulted in the outbreak of other stereotypical clichéd situations.
Last week I caught myself procrastinating from studying, and I was browsing some blogs that featured — you guessed it — “first world problems.” Some of the situations that others have experienced or devised gave me quite a few laughs. I empathized with “getting out of bed is the hardest part of my day” and grinned at “I went to Costco after the free sample stations closed.”
While I am quite fond of the entertainment factor that “first world problem” scenarios have, some would argue that this fun and lighthearted expression is slightly damaging and unkind.
These people would argue that this expression is insensitive to those who are less fortunate, making a joke on the account of those living in poverty. And not only the Third World countries suffer from unstable living conditions. There are people in the U.S. who struggle to make ends meet daily. But it’s only offensive if those who use the joke think that it is funny that these problems exist.
I don’t think that there is any intended harm in it though; it’s mainly a way to poke fun and give us excuses to complain about our daily lives. By posting these phrases on various platforms, it adds a sarcastic kind of humor to situations that most of us can relate to. The overall intention of the phrase is not to hurt anybody or make those less fortunate feel bad about themselves. There is a bigger problem on our hands if that is the case.
While I can’t speak for everybody who uses the phrase, I do see it as a way to acknowledge privilege in a roundabout way. When a person uses a phrase such as, “My health is so impeccable, I have to fake my sick days,” they are recognizing that the problems in the first world are significantly better than the Third World.
But this phrase does more than indirectly add perspective. I find the phrase “first world problems” to be a clever way to add a little bit of ironic humor to daily inconveniences. Laughing at ourselves sometimes is the best antidote to our whines and woes by giving permission to complain.
Take last week for example: I stood in line for coffee in Coffman Union for what seemed like hours, only to then be late to class. The irony for me that day was not that I had to stand in line for coffee and ended up disrupting the entire lecture, but that when darting to this class, I ended up spilling my coffee. Needless to say, I needed some perspective that day. So, when I decided to whip out my phone and tweet about my scenario, a simple hashtag with the phrase “first world problems” was a convenient way for me to vent but then move on.
Saying “first world problems” is a way for those who are slighted with bearable inconveniences to vent and de-stress about the situation as well as to have the chance to entertain and make others laugh. Using phrases such as “I wanted to make eggs, but I didn’t want to have to clean the pan” or “I wore a coat to the bars, and now I have to carry it all night” would definitely generate some laughs among peers. The next time that you find yourself irritated, acknowledge it, then address it. You’ll be wittily dealing with your problem, while also recognizing the larger issues. In the process you’ll be putting a smile on somebody’s face. If you can’t stir up some laughs, then that is a #firstworldproblem.
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