The Problem with Comfort

What follows, here in this post, is The Best Thing I’ve Ever written. If I make an untimely departure from this earth– this will be my lasting legacy to this planet. I used to write stuff like this more frequently; sometimes for other people to read, sometimes just for me. But again, this is my best one ever. And it’s called:  The Problem With Comfort.

The background to what prompted it: I have an amazing friend named Melissa. One of a small handful of Most Amazing People I’ve Ever Met:  incredibly artistic; genius intelligence; insight into the world and human nature beyond most anybody I’ve ever met.  Her brain operates at light-speed.  She’s really, truly, incredible– the cream of the crop, humanitywise.  And she’s not just the only one:  her whole family is like that.  She has 6 or 7 brothers and sisters; all of them are incredibly gifted geniuses, but a bit wacky.  They’re kind of like the Royal Tenenbaums, or also kind of like the Glass family (if you’ve read “Franny and Zooey” by J.D. Salinger).  Anyway, put her and me together in a conversation, and interesting things result.

So this little essay– the best one I think I’ve ever written– was something I wrote to her a few years ago.  She was on the verge of a major life change.  She was in a situation where she was feeling comfortable for the first time in her life… but had an earth-shattering opportunity that ignited her every sense, but was unproven, risky and (everybody else thought) completely crazy.  So at the time I wrote this, she was completely torn up about whether to go ahead with it, or not.  We explored it very thoroughly in phone conversations; after one such conversation, I was inspired and wrote this to her in one shot. But it was stuff that had been bouncing around in my head for years.  I just needed something to catalyze it, and make me collect it in one place, and write it down.  And that is what follows after the jump.

I’ve saved this and, over the years, sent it to friends when I thought they could use it. I’ve never previously published it publicly because  I’ve always thought it is “special” and I didn’t want it to get endlessly forwarded around the internet. (I had a vision of my grandmother sending it back to me.) But I’ve decided to publish it now, and I hope that whoever finds this will get something out of it.

Enough of my explaining. Enjoy.

So, here’s the deal.  Today’s lesson is entitled:  “The Problem With Comfort”.

BTW, you know that when I use the word ‘you’ in this, I don’t mean you specifically, I mean “one” or “one’s self”.  🙂

The Problem With Comfort is one that crops up in everybody’s life.  But very few people are aware of this.  Although it doesn’t have to, it usually crops up when someone is at a crossroads, or faced with a decision.  

People think that ‘happiness’ and ‘being comfortable’ go hand in hand.  This is true to some extent.  But the important thing here is that it is only true *to some extent*.  It is only partially true.  Unfortunately, that is where most people stop; with effects to their detriment.  The tie between happiness and comfort has a darker side; and it is only when one sees this that one can truly evaluate one’s options.

Too many people equate comfort with happiness.  They aspire to, and strive for, a life of comfort.  They fall into a routine of doing what is familiar to them.  Comfort and security go hand in hand:  people feel secure when they do what is comfortable to them.

So what is ‘comfortable’?  It is what you are used to.  What you are familiar with.  

Picture what a ‘typical’ existence is supposed to be like.  You get up at the same time every day.  You take your shower with the same brand of soap you’ve used for years.  You get in the car; you tune in the same radio station while you are stuck in the same traffic that you are in every day.  You work all day long at a job you don’t really like; you then battle traffic to get home.  You get take-out Chinese food from the same place you always do; and while eating it, you ask your husband/wife how their day was.  After a couple hours of TV, you go to bed, only to repeat the same thing the next day.  You are grateful for weekends; because that is when you get your laundry done, and go to Home Depot to fantasize about what you *could* do with your house.

This is what people consider to be a ‘happy’ life.  They fall into this routine, because it is what is COMFORTABLE to them.  They do that which is familiar.  This is why people stay in bad marriages, bad jobs, stay with a college major they hate, etc.:  because they are doing what is familiar to them.  They are doing what is comfortable.  

However, this is a very hollow comfort.  An existence like that slowly kills your soul.  But it drains it in such a subtle way that you do not realize it.  

People are more willing to live with bad circumstances, that they are used to, than to make some sort of change, for the sake of their own long-term happiness.

Why is this?  Because taking that leap is scary.  But rather than just decide to not do it, they practice a very clever way of avoidance.  So they put it off:  “well, I’ll see how my marriage is doing in six months”.  

Taking that leap, though, is what is so delicious.  Maybe it works out, maybe it doesn’t; but either way, it is part of the totality of the experience.  That fear of the unknown is what makes life so incredible:  if every one of the rest of your days were mapped out with certainty, then you would have nothing to actually live *for*.  It is when the future is uncertain—it is when you do *not* know what is coming ahead—that life takes on a much greater depth of meaning.    

The future is not scary in itself—it is the *uncertainty* that people are afraid of.  Which is foolishly self-defeating:  if bad things are going to be coming your way, you’re going to have to deal with them anyway; so you might as well not spin your wheels worrying about it.  They do not realize that any future pitfalls that they may encounter aren’t any worse than the stewing about them beforehand is.  It’s better (and more fun) to go out there and potentially get rained on than it is to stay home and be oppressed by your fear of getting rained on.

The important thing to realize about ‘comfort’ is that it is a short-term thing.  It deals only with what is happening in the immediate time.  ‘Happiness’ is a much more long-term concept; it runs over the course of your life.  So in order to achieve Happiness, you must think long-term.  And you must realize that it may involve a few speed bumps in the short term to get where you want to go.

I don’t think that you, Melissa, really have a fear of the future.  I mention this to illustrate, again, that it is something that is not *comfortable* to most people.  So most people will unconsciously choose the path of avoidance.

The problem with choosing this path of avoidance, is that it creates an internal inconsistency within you.
   My mother has a little saying tacked on the bathroom mirror at home.  I’m not sure where she got it, but the words are burned into my mind.  It says that the worst thing a person can ever do to themself is to be untrue to themself.  Because we are, each of us, our own best friend, and our own last hope.  This is an incredibly, incredibly important thing to realize.
   So here is what the Problem With Comfort boils down to:  when a person chooses Comfort (short term) over Happiness (long term), then there is a problem.  They think they are making the correct decision; but actually, they are choosing that which is *not* good for them.  They are being untrue to themself; which is the worst thing a person can do.  

So how is one to proceed, then, in your situation?

The first step is to realize that you are at a crossroads.  

The second step is to realize what the various directions ahead of you are.  You need to realize that you are facing The Problem With Comfort.

If you take these two steps, then you are ahead of 90% of everybody else.  Unfortunately, it is only once you’ve taken these steps that you can truly evaluate what direction to take.  And you have to remember that whatever direction you do take, it needs to move you *forward*, with an eye to the future.  Thoughts such as “but I’ve already put so much time into it” seem logical at first, but are only self-defeating; and are usually little more than a rationalization to preserve something that it might be better to leave behind.

And remember that as involved as you may be with someone—whether in a romantic sense, a familial sense, or any other sense—you should never do anything that is inconsistent with being true to *yourself*.

I’ll finish here with one of the most incredible things I’ve ever read.  It’s rather long, but it’s worth quoting in its entirety, because it so aptly summed up thoughts that I had been having for years.  This is from a nonfiction book called ‘Into the Wild’, by Jon Krakauer.  In this book is excerpted a letter that was written by the 24-year-old protagonist as he embarked upon a solo journey into Alaska that ended up costing him his life.  This marvelous letter reads:

Ron, I really enjoy all the help you have given me and the times that we spent together.  I hope that you will not be too depressed by our parting.  It may be a very long time before we see each other again.  But providing that I get through this Alaskan Deal in one piece you will be hearing from me again in the future.  I’d like to repeat the advice I gave you before, in that I think you really should make a radical change in your lifestyle and begin to boldly do things which you may previously never have thought of doing, or been to hesitant to attempt.  So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future.  The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure.  The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.  If you want to get more out of life, Ron, you must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life that will at first appear to you to be crazy.  But once you become accustomed to such a life you will see its full meaning and its incredible beauty.  And so, Ron, in short, get out of Salton City and hit the Road.  I guarantee you will be very glad you did.  But I fear that you will ignore my advice.  You think that I am stubborn, but you are even more stubborn than me.  You had a wonderful chance on your drive back to see one of the greatest sights on earth, the Grand Canyon, something every American should see at least once in his life.  But for some reason incomprehensible to me you wanted nothing but to bolt for home as quickly as possible, right back to the same situation which you see day after day after day.  I fear you will follow this same inclination in the future and thus fail to discover all the wonderful things that God has placed around us to discover.  Don’t settle down and sit in one place.  Move around, be nomadic, make each day a new horizon.   You are still going to live a long time, Ron, and it would be a shame if you did not take the opportunity to revolutionize your life and move into an entirely new realm of experience.

You are wrong if you think Joy emanates only or principally from human relationships.  God has placed it all around us.  It is in everything and anything we might experience.  We just have to have the courage to turn against our habitual lifestyle and engage in unconventional living.

My point is that you don not need me or anyone else around to bring this new kind of light in your life.  It is simply waiting out there for you to grasp it, and all you have to do is reach for it.  The only person you are fighting is yourself and your stubbornness to engage in new circumstances.

Ron, I really hope that as soon as you can you will get out of Salton City, put a little camper on the back of your pickup, and start seeing some of the great work that God has done here in the American West.  You will see things and meet people and there is much to learn from them.  And you must do it economy style, no motels, do your own cooking, as a general rule spend as little as possible and you will enjoy it much more immensely.  I hope that the next time I see you, you will be a new man with a vast array of new adventures and experiences behind you.  Don’t hesitate or allow yourself to make excuses.  Just get out and do it.  Just get out and do it.  You will be very, very glad that you did.

Take care Ron,


The recipient of the letter was an eighty-one-year-old man, who had survived two heart attacks.  He took the words to heart, putting most of his belongings in a storage locker, outfitting a van with sleeping and camping equipment, moving out of his apartment, and hitting the road.

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