The thing that I don’t think that Maslow addressed very well, possibly because it was irrelevant to him, was that a human at every level will feel compelled to complain and be miserable about the fact that they don’t have the things one level above them, because those are the things that are missing in each particular person’s life. We are avaricious beings, by nature, always striving in our own way to enlarge our own, personal slice of the pie, and so we tend to envy the things that we don’t have, more than we appreciate the things that we do.
And really, thank God for that, because our species would never have survived without that drive, or at least we’d still be living hand-to-mouth hunter/gatherer lifestyles, completely content with being eaten by dire wolves and likely dying before our 50th birthday in some terrible fashion.
However, an interesting phenomenon has arisen from the fact that we are avaricious beings, by nature. It has become even more clear as the gap between rich and poor continues to widen. Some people refer to this phenomenon as the “first world problems” effect, which is to say that despite the fact that people living in modern, first world nations enjoy a life that is far better than that lived by the majority of humanity (both alive and long dead), we still bitch and complain that we don’t have more.
The socialite debutante living in Manhattan, eating whenever she wants and sipping lattes that cost more than most people spend on all of their food for an entire week, complains about how unfair it is that she can’t afford those beautiful Versace pumps in the Macy’s display window (her co-worker totally bought a pair last week and she is SOOO jealous!), while the starving 5 year old boy in Guatemala drinks raw sewage out of a gutter because it’s the only water that he has available to him.
The 20-something hipster in San-Fran bitches about how slow the wi-fi connection is at his local Starbucks while using a hand-held, touch screen Ipad device that has nearly instant access to the entire database of human knowledge on a whim, while a 13-year old girl in Nigeria is having her clitoris cut off with a dirty shard of glass so that she can never enjoy sex.
The 40 year old soccer mom sits in her air conditioned, 4x4 SUV with a 325 horsepower V8 complaining about how bad the traffic is, while a young Indian boy walks miles upon miles to his school every day, in stifling heat and humidity, and in shoes that are worn completely through.
I am not bringing these examples up because I think that it is wrong that some people have things and some people do not. I have no urge to redistribute wealth, and “fix” the wealth gap (as if it is even something that needs to be “fixed”, or even CAN be “fixed”, at least by something other than market forces).
I only bring them up because I think that it is a strange relic of evolution that everybody on Earth constantly looks up to the person above them and thinks “oh my God, I want THAT!” and very few regularly look behind them at the person below them and think “Boy, am I lucky that I don’t live like that!” Part of this is the “whistling past the graveyard” effect, where folks don’t want to look at what life would be like if they lost what they had. Some of it is the fact that looking back, we can’t help but realize that it was more than just our skill and talent and work ethic that got us where we are – that there was some luck involved, too, and we don’t like to think that we aren’t 100% the masters of our lives. But most of it is just human nature – we are evolutionarily designed to want more; to strive for it.. To FIGHT for it.
Another funny aspect of this is that many of the grievance mongering movements of today, but especially feminism, focus so strongly on these “first world problems” issues that I can’t help but laugh. While upper-middle class women complain that women don’t get paid the same as men for doing easier, less dangerous, less skill-requiring, less demanding jobs than the men do, women in Nigeria are having their genitals mutilated by a society that views them as chattel property instead of self-determinate individuals. While rich white women in America complain that because they can’t get their birth control pills for free, they are being “denied” access to birth control and are being treated as sub-human, women in Afghanistan have to live in fear every day of men throwing acid in their face for daring to have the tenacity to learn how to read. While rich white women in America worry and hand-wring about “rape culture” in America, women all over the world are actually being raped, sold into forced marriage, and forced to be prostitutes against their will.
The entire feminist movement is one big bitch-fest about “first world problems.” This is one of the reasons that I look with such glee at hashtags such as #solidarityisforwhitewomen on twitter, where they lay bare the fact that women in America have only “freed” themselves from doing the things that they don’t want to do by paying other women, usually ethnic women, to do those things FOR them. They pay ethnic women to do the housework, cook the meals, do the ironing, raise the kids… you know, all those nasty jobs that the "patriarchy" had them doing right up until they “freed” themselves.
Feminism, and the subsequent “freeing” of all of it’s wealthy, first-world adherents, would not be possible without in turn shackling another group of women to take care of all the dirty, nasty things that feminists can no longer do and still be ideologically pure.
The moral? Take some time to appreciate all that you have. You have antibiotics, the internet, fast, efficient transportation, a roof over your head to keep you warm in the winter, and air conditioning to keep you cool in the summer, but at the same time, don’t lose that drive for something better.