I am writing this article because of a challenge my wife and I are facing. I hope you are sitting down and prepared to be shocked….our internet service is down! From the way we originally reacted you would think this was a crisis on a scale to rival the Gulf War or pandemic – especially when we found out they couldn’t get a technician to us for 24 hours. 24 hours? Don’t they realize we are important people who need high-speed internet to accomplish our supremely important professional endeavors?

Actually, the internet problem wasn’t a total disaster because we both have mobile hotspots on our smartphones. Sure, our connection speed is much slower but we can still go online to accomplish our tasks. Perhaps we will have to take a few Zoom calls in audio-only mode. We might even have to read something instead of watching our streaming service tonight. Horror of horrors!

I call these first-world problems because they are unique to the more highly developed countries and pale in comparison to what people in third-world countries face like famine, extreme poverty, war and loss of freedom.

What are some other first-world problems that get us needlessly upset? Here are a few minor challenges I have faced that caused me way more grief than necessary:

  • My hairstylist forgot my appointment slot and I had to wait an extra 30 minutes.
  • Milk we purchased at the local grocery store spoiled before its expiration date.
  • A piece of furniture I ordered online had such poor directions it took me at least one extra hour of assembly time.
  • The neighbors left their trash and recycle bins out for two days after the pickup day.
  • My wife’s car battery died and we had to wait over an hour for the roadside assistance guy to get us going.
  • I hit a deer with my relatively new car causing the demise of the poor deer and $4,000 plus in damages to the car – not to mention inconvenience in dealing with insurance, the rental car company and the auto repair shop.
  • The software program I ordered never arrived, despite the postal service claim that it was delivered. The replacement copy took two extra days.

I know that almost everyone (except those blessed by divine providence), can come up with their own list of issues they have to contend with. This is part of the human condition. Even people who you perceive to have perfect lives suffer some of the same slings and arrows as you do. Their health goes awry, their children mess up, they deal with demanding bosses or clients. And yes, their toilets do back up, just like yours. The fact is, if you knew everyone else’s problems, most of the time you would not trade them for your own.

One thing that I have found helpful, in addition to my wife’s calm approach, is to rate any problems/challenges on a scale of 1-10. A ten would be something catastrophic like the death of an immediate family member (15 if it is a child or grandchild). Nine would be finding out that you had an incurable disease. Perhaps eight would consist of being indicted for a crime or finding out your child had a serious drug problem. You get the picture – big problems are rated higher on the severity scale than little ones. This provides necessary perspective.

So how would I rate the challenges I mentioned above? Most of them are at a scale of 1-3 on the severity scale. Perhaps the meeting between my car and the deer was a five (although a 10 for the deer). The secret for me (and you) to have a more peaceful time on this planet is to never treat 1-5 issues with the same emotional attachment as we treat more serious problems.

By the way, I am not suggesting that you don’t address these modern annoyances. Service people should show up on time and the milk shouldn’t spoil early. However, I am suggesting that you never let the minor annoyances impact you to the same degree as the big ugly stuff. Save your emotions and resilience for when you really need them and don’t dissipate them on stuff that you can’t control and frankly, is not worth the effort.

There was a book written in the late 1990’s that had a great perspective on our tendency to magnify small problems, titled Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff . . . and It’s All Small Stuff: Simple Ways to Keep the Little Things from Taking Over Your Life. The title of the book really says it all. When you quantify the actual magnitude of your problems, you soon discover that what you perceived as problems or serious challenges (e.g. my internet outage) are actually just irritations. Moreover, I think we can all agree that while both major problems and irritations are part of life, they are not on the same scope and should not be treated as such.

If there is one thing worse than spending precious energy on current minor issues, it is to spend it on things that haven’t even happened yet, or in-fact, may never happen. As Mark Twain put it, “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”

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