Happiness is... being lucky to have First World problems
Every day I’m able to worry about exotic fruit or champagne is a good day
Normally, it’s there. But earlier this week, I walked into the Finchley Road Waitrose (my personal therapeutic temple as well as go-to local supermarket) to find to my utter consternation that … there were no pre-packaged pomegranate seeds. What?! I stared in anxiety and rising sense of panic. There was cayenne sliced pineapple (good, but not what I wanted); mango (yawn) and melon packs (irrelevant). I wanted pomegranate; expected it, craved it – the idea that it would not in fact be gracing my (also individually prepacked) Yeo Valley Greek-style yogurt five minutes hence was genuinely quite vexing.
Is Waitrose not having pomegranate seeds one of my greatest fears in life? No, it is not; but then again it is rare that they are not there when I want them (see, too, fellow staples Itsu seaweed, Rannoch smoked chicken breast and 85 per cent Lindt chocolate). Looming larger in my life is my fury when I am confronted with faulty wifi (I spend a lot of time in the British Library) or immense irritation at having to make do with Caffé Nero instead of an artisanal barista flat white coffee (I spend a lot of time in train stations, too, commuting to Sussex University where I am currently teaching).
But it turns out that throwing a mini (albeit internal) tantrum when something isn’t immediately available or smoothly delivered is simply par for the generational course – at least in Britain. A much-discussed survey last week by phone maker HTC found that the biggest “First World problems” plaguing today’s British millennials (twenty and thirtysomethings) include forgetting login passwords, waiting for an online video to buffer, being stuck with bad avocado (too mushy or too hard) or (outrage!) facing a shortage of prosecco.
Yes, my generation is obsessed with food – the other night I actually dreamt about whether to go to a new no-reservation hipster Italian place in Deptford , south-east London, or to a less exciting but bookable place with great steak and passion fruit martinis (which I’m allowed on my three nights of drinking per week). In contrast, the older generation, surveyed in 1997, wrung their hands over things like relationships, earning enough to cover their rent, and being able to afford a holiday. But look more closely at the list and a similar picture emerges – they too
were disturbed by the trivial inconveniences of life in a prosperous, liberal (though at that point smartphone-free) country. Nearly a quarter of them also worried about “when you have photos developed and most were overexposed” (bless); while others hated “having to get up to change the channel on the TV” (double bless) and “arranging to meet someone at a certain time and running late” (all together now).
Surveys like this offer a plum chance to depict a nation of unbelievably, almost farcically shallow young adults. One newspaper called the concern to avoid bad avocado “avocado anxiety – a terror of the fruit not being ripe”. Terror? Hardly. Avocado-related unease is surely more about the extreme frustration and sense of disappointment I described above. But with “problems” and “avocados” in the same sentence, the message is clear: we should be blushing beetroot about the inanity and sheer privilege of our “First World” problems.
Well, you can check your privilege, but I’ll be taking mine on board with me. You certainly won’t see me apologising for having First World problems. Worrying about a low stock of pomegranates at Waitrose is infinitely preferable to living in fear, danger and grinding poverty – as so many in the world do. I therefore choose to embrace my luck with wide-open, grateful arms and gullet. This is not to go all Marie Antoinette and grossly parade privilege, or forget the lottery-win of living in Britain instead of, say, Yemen or Saudi Arabia, or indeed to be in any way callous or offhand about others’ misfortune and tragedy. It’s rather to heed the slogan of one of my favourite T-shirts: “Let me eat cake”.
Of course, the truth is that we focus on First World problems when and because we can. They’re the soothing, comforting distractions in our lives when monsters like the health of loved ones, finances and catastrophic world events are at bay bay. Every day I am able to worry about exo exotic fruit, or wonder whether there w will be champagne (yay!) or prosecco (les (less yay, to be honest) at my friend’s wed wedding is a good day. We’re incredibly lucky not to live in a war zone, or un under a highly repressive regime. RejoiceRejoic that we can buy pomegrana pomegranates year-round, and fly to Palerm Palermo for £50 return. If we also hap happen to be temporarily and m miraculously free of life’s heavie heavier burdens and in good health health, it is almost our duty to enjoy our spoiled, superficial, frankl frankly delicious First World proble problems to the very max.
And w with a world in total, terrifyin terrifying disarray on so many fronts, thi this is absolutely the time – while we can – to treasure and celebrate our issues with expensive vegetables and fizzy wine.
Pomegranate panic: the day Waitrose ran out