How to get over your first-world guilt

I am 1000% confident that at least once in your life, you’ve thought something like this:

“I mean, I feel guilty for not enjoying my life right now. There are people out there who would be so happy to be in my shoes. I should feel grateful!”

Mmhmm. You know you’ve been there.

IT’S CALLED FIRST-WORLD GUILT, MY FRIENDS

And it makes a ton of people feel like crap on a regular basis.

There’s nothing wrong with being cognizant of our blessings in the first world, of course. We should absolutely be grateful for our food, water, warmth, money, freedom, and other creature comforts. Because, yes, there are millions upon millions of people who don’t enjoy any of those things.

Beyond the basics, we feel guilty for disliking our work situation because so many people (many of them in our own generation) are struggling to find any kind of career.

So, out of guilt, we end up convincing ourselves that the kindest, most reasonable thing to do is stay put. Be appreciative that you even have this. Put a smile on.

Because in doing that, at least you prove that you’re grateful for what you have.

BREAKING DOWN SOME TERRIBLY FAULTY LOGIC

Feeling bad about … feeling bad … does nothing productive for us, or anyone else.

If you feel so guilty about wanting more that you sit down, shut up, and purposefully take no action, you’re going to make yourself feel that much worse. Which leads to more resentment, more frustration, more wishing you could be elsewhere … and right back to more guilt. It’s a vicious cycle.

Let’s say you wish you could quit your job and move to a different industry entirely. But you feel bad about feeling bad, so you don’t make any effort. You stay put in order to “prove” something to yourself.

Well, I hate to break it to you, but …

You’ve not only just screwed yourself over; you’ve screwed over whatever person might have been waiting in the wings for your current job.

Uh huh. Think about it!

You might hate it, but that doesn’t mean everyone will hate it. Your job might be exactly what someone else is looking for right now, but they’ll never find it.

What if giving yourself permission to want what you want (guilt-free!) creates a domino effect for a bunch of other people to get what they want? You can’t exactly ship your leftover dinner to starving children in the third world, but you can create space in the first world for you and other people to win. Which is pretty gracious, no?

WE’RE AFRAID SOMEONE’S GOING TO THINK WE’RE GREEDY

I’d like to sit down with whomever first propagated the inane notion that you can’t be humble, gracious, AND want more out of life.

What’s with this B.S. idea that you’re not a “good person” unless you put everyone but yourself first, accept too little, and don’t advocate for more?

Maybe it’s because desiring more often translates to “power hungry” or “money grubbing” or “greedy” or something similarly off-putting.

And while there are certainly people like that in the world, they’re the unconscious ones.

An unconscious person who desires more out of life is often just chasing goals and material things without understanding why and with little regard for other people.

A conscious person (that’s you!) who desires more out of life realizes that more anything (power, money, significance) means that you have that much more with which to change the world for you and everyone else. It’s not selfish. It’s actually quite selfless.

GRATITUDE AND DESIRING MORE AREN’T MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE

The next time you find yourself thinking, “Man, I hate this job. But I should be appreciative because my friend is unemployed right now” (or any other thought that’s flavored with first-world guilt), say this:

“I’m grateful for everything I have. AND … I desire more.”

You can be grateful. AND you can want more out of life. They’re allowed to co-exist!

In fact, being genuinely grateful is fantastic because it neutralizes a lot of the bad energy you might have around your current situation.

Finding the silver lining, or at least a few things to appreciate, make you feel a little better about it. And that, in turn, creates more energy for you to think about the next step.

twitter-birdGratitude and desire go together like PB&J. Throwing in guilt is like adding mustard.

Don’t mess up a perfectly good thing by adding unnecessary guilt.

Want what you want. Feel grateful for what you already have. And use that to propel you and everyone else to the next level.

Let’s hear your first-world guilt confessions in the comments! We know you’ve got ‘em.

Much Love,

Rachel (+ Kristen)

10 Comments // ADD COMMENT

10 comments

  • @sarahspy

    I’m so glad I found your site the other day. So far I’ve found that the THRIVER personality type fits me to an absolute T, and now this blog post is speaking to me more deeply than anything has in a while. It’s very comforting and appreciated! Thank you 🙂

    • Clarity on Fire

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Sarah! We’re really glad you found us and that so much of this is resonating. Not enough people talk about this kind of stuff, ya know?

  • Kallie

    I saw a quote yesterday that is absolutely perfect for this post: “There is no passion to be found in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living” – Nelson Mandela. Just thought I’d share, and happy Thanksgiving to all of you (pretty appropriate for this subject of gratitude too, huh?!)! <3 Kallie

    • Clarity on Fire

      Awesome quote! That might just have to be a Clarity Gem at some point 😉 Thanks, Kallie! Happy Thanksgiving!

  • Estell

    This post just hits me. I’m a terribly an irrational guilty person and I do feel guilty this way. I realized that maybe it could have something to do with some insecurity I have that I deserve less than other people but I know that shouldn’t be the case. We all deserve to be happy and we can all want more out of life. I also think that maybe, people just have different priorities which is why some other people would not probably understand me when I say my former job wasn’t fulfilling me anymore. I was happy with it, but I knew I want more. And that, I think isn’t greed. It’s passion with ambition.

    • Clarity on Fire

      You’re 100% right about people having different priorities and values — just because someone else would be happy or satisfied in your situation doesn’t make it right for you. Love the distinction you made: It’s not greed … it’s passion with ambition. That’s a really powerful reframe. Thanks for reading, Estell!

  • Angela Weeks

    I absolutely loved this post as well as all the others. This one definitely “spoke to me.” I struggle with my inner critic telling me I am “not being grateful enough” when I find myself wishing I had a job I was more passionate about. Today I accept a new rule and mantra… “I’m grateful for everything I have. AND … I desire more.”

    Thank you for your writings. You ladies are amazing!

    • Clarity on Fire

      Thanks for your comment, Angela! Isn’t it SO freeing to realize that gratitude and desire can co-exist, and there’s nothing to feel guilty about?

      We love your new mantra! Come back and let us know how it shifts your day-to-day feeling about your job.

  • Jean Adyr

    Oh. My. Word. I just googled the term “first-world guilt” because I was hoping someone else felt the same way I do and at least found a way to circumvent it. This article seems to have breathed fresh life into my soul. Thank you so much for this, and for all the people who are commenting. I am relieved, so incredibly relieved that someone could put into words the way I have felt my entire life.

    On international day of Happiness, I have been given a great gift.

    You are awesome, don’t stop!

  • divya

    thank u so much u people r just amezzzzing…….love u