For longest time I didn’t know ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff, it’s all small stuff’ was actually a book by Richard Carlson, I just thought it was a common expression. I always liked the idea because I was fortunate enough, through personal experience, to believe that it was true. I had been lucky enough to have gained the perspective of just how insignificant our problems are. Understanding why ‘it’s all small stuff’ gives us a tremendous ability to tackle our problems knowing that everything will be OK. Achieving this perspective can done by understanding the size of and age of things that most of us never actually think about.
Humans: Tallest person ever recorded was 2.72 m (8 ft 11.1 in)
Trees: 10 feet (3.048 m)- 379.7 feet (115.7 m)
Boeing 747: Length 250ft (76.25 m) and weight 306 Tonnes (403, 000 pounds)
Empire State Building: 1454 feet (443.2 m) tall
Mount Everest: 8,848 m (29,000 feet) tall
The Earth: Circumference 3,963 miles (6,378 kilometers) and surface area of 510.1 million km²
The Sun: Approximately 864,400 miles (1,391,000 kilometers) across.
To put this all in perspective our sun is considered only a medium sized star and our galaxy (the Milky Way has about 100 Billion stars.) It is also 100,000 light years in diameter ( one light year is 5.88 trillion miles (9.5 trillion km) and that is small for a galaxy. This really great interactive scale of the universe tool helps us understand these scales a bit better.
As we go up the scale learn just how tiny we are. Even a tortoise or a sea urchin have longer lives we do. All we have to do is look in our backyard and the tree standing there could be five to ten times as tall as we are and decades older.
Also, how bad are our problems? Around 2011 the meme ‘first world problems’ went viral and helped everyone have a laugh at their insignificant problems. The meme pokes fun at the complaints of individuals in the more affluent parts of the world. This includes complaints like having no WiFi, not being able to fly first class, or not being able to book a favorite restaurant. This list a is a good example. The expression ‘first world problems’ quickly became part of regular language in the western world. Whenever someone says ‘first world problems’ they are pointing out that a complaint or frustration is actually not as bad we might think it is.
First world problems makes an excellent point when you think of figures such as the following:
- Hunger: The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that about 815 million people of the 7.6 billion people in the world, or 10.7%, were suffering from chronic undernourishment in 2016. Almost all the hungry people live in lower-middle-income countries. There are 11 million people undernourished in developed countries(source)
- War: 68.5 million people fleeing war or persecution worldwide (source)
- Disease: AIschemic heart disease alone was responsible for about 9.43 million deaths in 2016. However, all cardiovascular diseases together cause over 17.8 million deaths annually worldwide. (source)
Sad realities but it’s important to remember how lucky we are to have unlimited access to food, water and security in our lives. Most of us in the Western world have never lived in the kind of fear or desperation that millions do everyday. Even in supposedly affluent countries there are people in our own neighborhood who are going hungry, have been victims of violent crime or are suffering from a debilitating disease.
When one considers this our problems are truly insignificant. Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot speech is a beautiful example of this perspective. No one should ignore their problems, in fact, ignoring them often makes them worse but remembering how fleeting our lives and problems are helps us cope. Our lives and our problems are important but at the end of the day we know they will pass because time will pass and time cures all wounds.