First World Problems

I used to know someone who would regularly use the phrase, First World Problems. This phrase would often be used for a problem with technology such as no mobile phone signal, Mobile phone battery flat or slow internet access but could be used for other trivial issues.

First World Problems are very much minor problems or frustrations. This implies a contrast with serious problems such as those that may be experienced in developing countries. In these places survival is the predominant focus.

Recently I heard a talk about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This reminded me of the First World Problems phrase. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a physiological theory and represented as a pyramid divided into five sections. See diagram below. In this theory when a person achieves one need, they progress up to the next need.

Physiological Needs

These are things that are vital to our survival. Some examples of physiological needs include:

  • Food
  • Water
  • Breathing
  • Shelter
  • Clothing
  • Sex for reproduction

Security and Safety Needs

At this level, the needs for security and safety become the primary concerns. People want control and order in their lives. Some of the basic security and safety needs include:

  • Financial security
  • Health and wellness
  • Safety against accidents and injury

Together, the safety and physiological levels of the hierarchy make up what is often referred to as the basic needs.

Social Needs

The social needs in Maslow’s hierarchy include such things as love, acceptance, and belonging. At this level, the need for interpersonal relationships motivates behaviour. Some of the things that satisfy this need include:

  • Friendships
  • Romantic relationships
  • Family
  • Social groups
  • Community groups
  • Churches and religious organisations

Esteem Needs

Esteem -Maslow classified into two categories:

  • esteem for oneself (dignity, achievement, mastery, independence)
  • the desire for reputation or respect from others (e.g., status, prestige).

At the fourth level in Maslow’s hierarchy is the need for appreciation and respect. People need to sense that they are valued by others and feel that they are making a contribution to the world.

Self-Actualization Needs

At the very peak of Maslow’s hierarchy are the self-actualization needs. According to Maslow’s definition of self-actualization, “It may be loosely described as the full use and exploitation of talents, capabilities, potentialities, etc. Such people seem to be fulfilling themselves and to be doing the best that they are capable of doing. They are people who have developed or are developing to the full stature of which they are capable.”

Self-Actualization include Spiritual Development. The never-ending journey of discovering and actualising one’s true self.


The talk I was listening to was about how people tend to focus on Social Needs, particularly romantic relationships and Esteem Needs, mainly their status, especially in regards to social media. Little regard is placed on the other sections.

What should we focus on? Could we safely miss a section? What is really important?

I believe there are only two sections that are important. They are the Physiological Needs and Self-Actualization Needs. Our survival and spiritual development!

What about the other sections? When our survival and spiritual development are in order everything falls into place.

Security and Safety Needs- We cannot control the future. While we crave order, we can not prevent chaos. While it is prudent to mitigate risks, living in fear of chaos only holds us back.

Social Needs- It can be horrible being alone. The fear of being alone can prevent us leaving relationships that no longer serve us but at the same time these relationships are holding us back in other areas of our lives. This is particularly the case with romantic relationships. It is also said that your partner is a reflection of you. Imagine the people that you will bring into your life when you are well on the way to mastering your existence.

Esteem Needs- Through spiritual growth true self-esteem and self-confidence will develop. When you’re at peace within yourself you will no longer desire recognition from others in the form of respect and reputation. In fact, if you no longer desire recognition, you will probably be very respected!! It very much reminds me of the Margaret Thatcher quote- “Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.”

Here in the northern hemisphere, winter is approaching. It’s time to hibernate and become somewhat reclusive. For me I have taken an almost monk like approach to try and eliminate all distractions and focus on what is truly important. At the moment what is truly important for me is

  • Being fit and healthy
  • Eating well
  • Living in a clean and tidy home
  • Plenty of rest and sleep
  • Meditation and spiritual growth

When spring arrives, I know that I will emerge from this stage a new and improved person. I trust that the other pieces of the pyramid will fall into place when the time is right. Everything is perfect right now.

What is truly important for you?

Mark- The Alchemist’s Journey

2 thoughts on “First World Problems

  1. This has given me lots to think about especially regarding “wants” and “needs”. Thank you Mark for challenging me to think outside the box.

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  2. I really enjoyed your post. In my child development classes, we are always referring back to Maslow’s hierarchy. While I feel that the base of the pyramid makes sense (it’s true you can’t do much if you’re freezing or starving) I think it’s a stretch to say that everything else must proceed in order. I’m with you that we can have only our physiological needs met and still feel self-actualized. There has to be a better visual model than a pyramid.

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