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Champagne Problems

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There is a term used to describe what might be called good problems to have: Problems like when you grab the wrong set of keys and your car automatically remembers the wrong seat settings. Or like when your business is going too well and you have to have an uncomfortable conversation about raising your rates. Or that your spouse is so attractive that people are surprised you’re together. We call these Champagne Problems. Or First World Problems. There’s a whole subreddit dedicated to it.

Many of these problems are real, make no mistake. They are just much better problems to have than to be going hungry at night or fighting off Lupus. Seneca, who was quite rich and interacted with Rome’s elite, knew all about these problems. He was surrounded by people who had access to great luxuries (while much of Rome was dreadfully poor) and seemed to do nothing but complain about the burdens of these luxuries. “Slavery,” he once wrote, “resides beneath marble and gold.” Basically: People become prisoners of their possessions and lose the ability to see how fortunate they truly are.

That’s why he spent so much time thinking about and even practicing (mentally and physically) what life would be like without good fortune. Because he wanted to be able to actually appreciate what he had, rather than be made miserable by it. Remember that, today, when you get frustrated. Ask yourself: Is this really a problem or is it a good problem to have? How lucky would someone else think I am for this thing I am complaining about?

And see if that might make things a little better—or at least convince you to shut up about it.

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