We’ve grown used to belittling things that don’t happen to be important to us right now With the powerful term: “First World Problems.” So when your partner is moaning that their job’s a bit boring, It’s tempting to say that: “This is a first world problem.” Just as they might have told you that ‘You had a first world problem’, when you complain that the shopping mall looks a bit ugly or that you don’t like your in-laws.. This kind of tough-minded response is understandable, but a bit counter-productive. 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. A problem can be important without being life-threatening Moreover, we should be excited by trying to solve the most advanced problems out there: The problems of rich countries are, for the most part, both complicated and serious. They’re the ones that everyone’s going to face in about 300 years time. The issues that people have in Switzerland and Norway, Australia and the Netherlands: These’re the problems that all humanity will have… … in about 2250. First world problems aren’t an unneccesary oddity. They’re a form of time travel They’re a glimpse into what we’ll one day all have to worry about. There are currently 25 countries on this planet could qualify as ‘first world’. You probably live in one of them. In these rich countries, people don’t starve; life expectancy is high; child mortality is low. But there are a lots of other problems. Not sob stories of the well-to-do begging sympathy because the wine isn’t properly chilled There are central issues of philosophy and politics. Because everyday, we’re fighting to get richer, and so we need to understand the problems that come with or undermine that struggle… You think people in the rich world felt they had enough material things. The average Australian is more blessed in material terms than the Kings of Medieval Europe ever were. But something very odd and troubling about human nature has come to light. It seems we don’t decide whether we have enough by asking ourselves what we need Or comparing our material possessions with those that our parents or grandparents had. and we certainly don’t think of people in the poorest country in the world: the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We ask whether we have enough by looking at other people around us, in the immediate vicinity, and especially people we see on TV. Our happiness is comparative and relative by nature. This sets up a devilish problem because, driven by advertising, there’s always more that we could have and that some other people around us already do. That’s an enormous part why rich coutries are not as happy as they’re supposed to be. In 1975, economist Richard Easterlin identified the average level of happiness in the US as 2.2 on a famous happiness scale that he devised. At that point, per capita GDP was $22,000. Now GDP per capita in the US is $54,000. But extraordinarily, happiness level is exactly the same: 2.2. It’s a deeply shocking result, like going to the gym everyday for years and discovering that you’re no happier with your body than when you started! Wealth does matter to happiness but only up to a point. Research suggests that every dollar you earn up to $20,000 per head makes you happier but thereafter, you need a lot of other things to make you content. Rich countries are rich because their economies are enormously productive. Economists and manufacturers love productivity. But it’s also responsible for one of the oddest, the most pervasive causes of modern unhappiness what we now call “being stressed”. The United States, the world’s most productive economy is also by far and away the most stressed place you could live in. We buy our weallth with a very high price indeed. We work hard partly because we’re afraid. Thanks to Recessions, the rise of service jobs and rising global competition The typical job tenure in the 20 richest countries is now only 15 months. No wonder we’re stressed. Everething in rich countries becomes cheaper year by year. Except for one thing which matters far more than TVs or mobile phones: Your House. House inflation averaged out across the capital cities of the rich countries, has been running at an annual rate of 20% per annum for the last two decades. This has had an enormous impact on everything. But one thing in particular: commuting times. Commuting is globally the least liked part of the working day but we’re doing ever more of it. because when a place is rich, the distances between work and affordable homes increases painfully and exponentially. In Ireland, you might spend 26 minutes a day commuting. In South Korea, it’s a full 55 minutes. Insane commuting times is a small incidental but deeply telling symptom of a wealthy but very unhappy society. Partly as the result of stress and commuting, we are collectively exhausted. One fifth of people in Japan suffer from insomnia. In the UK, 51% of the population believe they don’t get enough sleep. Tiredness brings other issues: We get too tired to cook. In the UK, the huge pre-made meal industry is growing at 6% a year, which means that by 2037, every single meal consumed in the British Isles will, by current trends, have been made in a factory. We’re too tired to read: On average, Americans spend 7 minutes a day reading for pleasure, 89% say they’d like that to be more if they weren’t so tired. And we’re too tired to exercise: 21 and a half minutes a day is the recommended amount of exercice to keep ones self in shape but that’s beyond the reach fore more than 80% of everyone in the top richest 20 countries. It doesn’t help that we drink: In the UK the average man would drink 1,100 pines of beer a year. Alcohol is the leading relaxant. We watch online porn: 42% of all download’s are pornographic. 10% of adults admitted Internet porn addiction. However, these statistics don’t capture the most significant aspect to the problem: 78% of users of porn say that they’re very or highly dissapointed of the quality of their real relationships. Relationships are crucial to happiness. But what’s been discovered is a disastrous alignment of wealth creation and relationship troubles. Divorce rates are very high in rich countries: 53% in the USA; 55% in France, 60% in Luxembourg and there’s a huge hinterland of the unhappy undivorced. In the US, of the people who stay together, 70% have seriously thought of leaving …but fear separation would be even worse. And not necessarily wrong, 1/3 of people in the US say that they’re very, or desperately lonely. In France, 4 million people admit to having no real friends. Loneliness is a side effect of wealth creation. In poor countries, you can’t easily survive on your own. As countries get richer, people move for work, the economic unit ceases to be family, the workplace takes over. Then the workplace lets you down. The rich world is far better at tearing up natural habitats and turning them into enormous, soulless, frighteningly ugly cities. At the moment, 3.5 billion people live in urban areas. It will be 6 billion in 2050. There will be nearly as much urban constructions in the next 50 years as there has been in the whole of human history up to now. The quality of the environment is among the top three concerns of people in the rich countries. We’re so good at complaining about our lack of income, we have, as yet, found no convincing, collective way of articulating how much beauty matters to us. And how sad the omnipresent ugliness has made us. The things that make us unhappy in rich countries give us a poignant picture of unmet needs for relationships, meaning, beauty and sense of purpose There’s an enormous task ahead of us. The solutions are not primarily financial, They’re about psychology and ideas At present, we measure a lot of things: GDP, inflation and unemployment These are all attempts to get what we really want to know: Are our lives getting better? But for all our expertise, we don’t have indices around the quality of our relationships, national stress level, the incidents of envy, the amount of hugs people give each other, the number of random acts of kindness. But this is what we need to be announced on some daily news, to focus on collective efforts We need indicators that measure our psychological, rather than merely financial well-being. News industries make their money from frightening and exciting news. The news constantly make us imagine a world more violent, more filled with disasters, more politically unstable than it really is, and at the same time, more inhabited by talented, beautiful, smart and sexy people than it is. This provides a staggeringly poor starting point for grasping our own needs We’re likely to feel ourselves craving greater and greater degrees of protection and security and in need of much more money, excitement and stimulation. Better media will provide us with a more realistic starting point, and so lessen the anxieties, which we look to money to sooth. Traditionally, religion has had the function of giving authority and glamour to non-material values if money and power were represented by a lion, and Christianity once saw itself as worshipping the meek and gentle lamb, Christianity told the Mighty, the Barons, the Generals, the Warlords to be kind, It taught them to recognize the importance of spiritual values that otherwise would have had no currency and through magnificent works of art, it preached the final superiority of the spiritual to the material Today we can’t rely on organized religions to do this. though they continue to make the attempts, but the need remains. A good society needs to have people who celebrate money, but also, just as many people ready to celebrate non-material things, like kindness, forgiveness and the importance of going on country walks. We require a new system of education to promote psychological wisdom If we work backwards from life, it’s clear that schools fail all but a tiny portion of their students. Trouble around work and relationships remains very widespread indeed. We need to learn not just Maths and History but also, far more importantly, how to live and die well. The kinds of cities we live in has vast implications for the quality of our lives, but at present, our collective aspirations are undeveloped. We need to construct tight, compact cities, with the elegance of Edinburg, San Francisco, Heidelberg and somehow cap house prices to a level affordable by an average citizen. This is only the beginning of the list What is clear is is that trying to make societies ever richer isn’t the answer given the standard living in the rich countries, it isn’t the lack of money that’s the real problem, it is, broadly speaking, a lack of wisdom and that’s a challenge for all of us now.