First World Problem

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One evening, I was stuck in traffic and irritated. I was meeting friends and all these cars were in my way. It wasn't raining; there was no accident, just bumper-to-bumper traffic.

As I tried to calm myself down a meme my kids had been using described my plight -- First World Problem.

It's everyday stress in our technological society which we escalate into a crisis.  It's an inconvenience that pales before real problems of food, shelter or health care that preoccupy much of the rest of the world.

We used the meme when wireless was not accessible, or when we had run out of dark chocolate --- well, maybe that one is real. But, there are countless times when we experience heart-ripping, stress-causing, blood-pressure-rising problems that the non-technological world might be happy to trade for. The Greek philosopher Epicurus in 300 BCE based his philosophy on happiness, peace and freedom from fear and pain. We seem to have stalled in this area in the intervening two millennia.

In the book "Why Zebras Don't get Ulcers," Robert Sapolsky investigates the insidious effects of the continuous stress we feel in contrast to zebras who feel stress only in situations where their lives are actually in danger. Even though we are not chased by lions or a machete wielding crazy person, we feel stress all the time.


Holidays are stressful. As are post-holidays. Meeting with relatives is stressful and not meeting is stressful because we feel guilty for not getting together. And on and on.

The approaching holiday season is a virtual Christmas tree of stress. This year, I'm taking a page from a zebra's playbook and reminding myself that being late does not mean my life is in danger and most things that stress me are First World Problems I'm lucky to have. When my heart starts pounding and my temples start throbbing, I'll take a deep breath and remind myself I have everything that's really important and I will get through this.

With a Perspective, I'm Vinita Nelson.

Vinita Nelson is an engineer.  She lives and works in San Jose.