Psychologists: #FirstWorldProblems are real and third-world people have them too

In "Is the Emotion-Health Connection a "First-World Problem"?",  psychologists Sarah D. Pressman, Matthew W. Gallagher, and Shane J. Lopez argue that emotional wellbeing is just as critical to the health of people in the developing world as their supposedly wimpy counterparts in rich countries, perhaps even more so:  Emotions have been shown to play a ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images
MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images
MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images

In "Is the Emotion-Health Connection a "First-World Problem"?",  psychologists Sarah D. Pressman, Matthew W. Gallagher, and Shane J. Lopez argue that emotional wellbeing is just as critical to the health of people in the developing world as their supposedly wimpy counterparts in rich countries, perhaps even more so: 

Emotions have been shown to play a critical role in health outcomes, but research on this topic has been limited to studies in industrialized countries, which prevents broad generalizations. This study assessed whether emotion-health connections persist across various regions, including less-developed countries, where the degree to which people’s fundamental needs are met might be a better predictor of physical well-being.

Individuals from 142 countries (N = 150,048) were surveyed about their emotions, health, hunger, shelter, and threats to safety. Both positive and negative emotions exhibited unique, moderate effects on self-reported health, and together, they accounted for 46.1% of the variance. These associations were stronger than the relative impact of hunger, homelessness, and threats to safety and were not simply attributable to countries’ gross domestic products (GDPs). Furthermore, connections between positive emotion and health were stronger in low-GDP countries than in high-GDP countries. Our findings suggest that emotion matters for health around the globe and may in fact be more critical in less-developed areas.

In "Is the Emotion-Health Connection a "First-World Problem"?",  psychologists Sarah D. Pressman, Matthew W. Gallagher, and Shane J. Lopez argue that emotional wellbeing is just as critical to the health of people in the developing world as their supposedly wimpy counterparts in rich countries, perhaps even more so: 

Emotions have been shown to play a critical role in health outcomes, but research on this topic has been limited to studies in industrialized countries, which prevents broad generalizations. This study assessed whether emotion-health connections persist across various regions, including less-developed countries, where the degree to which people’s fundamental needs are met might be a better predictor of physical well-being.

Individuals from 142 countries (N = 150,048) were surveyed about their emotions, health, hunger, shelter, and threats to safety. Both positive and negative emotions exhibited unique, moderate effects on self-reported health, and together, they accounted for 46.1% of the variance. These associations were stronger than the relative impact of hunger, homelessness, and threats to safety and were not simply attributable to countries’ gross domestic products (GDPs). Furthermore, connections between positive emotion and health were stronger in low-GDP countries than in high-GDP countries. Our findings suggest that emotion matters for health around the globe and may in fact be more critical in less-developed areas.

Nigerian-American novelist Teju Cole blastedthe #firstworldproblems meme in an extended discussion on Twitter in 2011, calling it "false and condescending":

Yes, Nigerians struggle with floods or infant mortality. But these same Nigerians also deal with mundane and seemingly luxurious hassles. Connectivity issues on your BlackBerry, cost of car repair, how to sync your iPad, what brand of noodles to buy: Third World problems. All the silly stuff of life doesn’t disappear just because you’re black and live in a poorer country.

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

More from Foreign Policy

An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.
An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.

Is Cold War Inevitable?

A new biography of George Kennan, the father of containment, raises questions about whether the old Cold War—and the emerging one with China—could have been avoided.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.

So You Want to Buy an Ambassadorship

The United States is the only Western government that routinely rewards mega-donors with top diplomatic posts.

Chinese President Xi jinping  toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.
Chinese President Xi jinping toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.

Can China Pull Off Its Charm Offensive?

Why Beijing’s foreign-policy reset will—or won’t—work out.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.

Turkey’s Problem Isn’t Sweden. It’s the United States.

Erdogan has focused on Stockholm’s stance toward Kurdish exile groups, but Ankara’s real demand is the end of U.S. support for Kurds in Syria.