We seem to allow happiness to be relative. If someone told you that they went out and had a grand ol’ time for ten whole dollars, and someone else came and told you that they had an equally great time for an exorbitant one hundred dollars, you would be able to accept that quite easily. You of course stayed at home that night because neither of those jerks invited you out.

So the little African child who everyone uses as the go-to scale for everything is playing with his little wooden sculpted block, and the fat North American child playing with his Xbox are both equally happy. Sure. But as soon as that fat little child’s Xbox breaks, and he bursts into fat little tears, we would feel less sorry for him than if our little African child were to start crying poverty-stricken tears.

The happiness can be equally valid, but the sadness can not. Why not?

Because the fat kid has more, and the starved child will likely die soon. But then wouldn’t that mean that the fat kid should have more value for his happiness? But, but, but material wealth doesn’t affect happiness!! We learned this when we were young, and Sesame Street was pushing its radical left-wing ideals down our impressionable throats. And I agree, due to my radical left-wing ideals (thanks Sesame Street!)

Being sad carries with it a harsh stigma. Sadness is the “wrong” emotion to feel (because it sucks) so it is scrutinized more strongly than any of the other emotions. And since empathy is hard, most of the time people just write off sadness as the person dwelling too much on their issue, or not being strong enough, or whatever the reason. Being sad means being weak, and therefore you’d better have a damn good reason for why you feel like shit. Being dumped, losing a loved one, losing your job, being a starving African child… All of these are socially acceptable reasons to be sad. But remember, not for too long. Here’s a video that delves further into the stigma of sadness compared to the harmful proliferation of “thinking positive” which is worth a watch if you have ten minutes:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u5um8QWWRvo

Labeling problems held by fortunate people as “First World Problems” do more harm than just perpetuating the myth that being miserable is a “bad” thing. It also leads to this:

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Poverty becomes looked upon in absolute scales. Remember the African-child-scale that the world wants to apply everything to? Well, that child doesn’t have a refrigerator, so therefore all the poverty-stricken in North America should just buck up. Life isn’t so bad for them, so they’re not allowed to be miserable about it. But as I’ve hopefully explained clearly, emotions are all the same, regardless of which scale you’re using. Just because we don’t live in a crippled nation, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to fix the problems we *do* have.

So when someone tells you to cheer up because at least you’re not living in a mud hut with only dried shoots of grass to eat, remember that emotions don’t scale. But problems do. So tell them to fuck off. Politely, if  the two of you are close.

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