The Problem with Comfort

Do not seek comfort.

Comfort is relative, not absolute.

We will always see comfort compared to our current situation. For the refugee lost in the desert comfort might simply be some shade and a glass of water. For the middle class American it might be a car that you can turn on with your key fob before you go outside so that the AC turns on and you don’t have to sit in a hot car.

Because of this, whatever you find comfortable now, will not stay comfortable for long. A warm bed is eventual left, we eventually tire of our hot shower. You dream house may begin to feel cramped. A comfortable situation will eventually become normalized and you will seek greater comforts, forgetting that your current comforts may already be beyond what you once mearly dreamt about.

In addition comfort does nothing to motivate you toward other goods, and inhibits you from seeking many possibilities. Comfort can never fulfill, and in many cases it will be in opposition to that which would fulfill you.

Comfort is often mistaken for freedom, for freedom is often needed to find it, but the free man may soon find himself seeking bondage for comfort. For freedom requires decision, responsibility and consequence, all of which open up the possibility for hardship.

But what is comfort? If we examine it we can further see its perils. Comfort seeks to remove any sense of hardship. It desires to create the most lubricated path through life. Ultimate comfort is the absence, not just of discomfort, but of the possibility of discomfort. In this sense it is often not even physical, like a warm bed, but psychological, a mind that doesn’t need to entertain the possibility that they may not get to sleep in a warm bed at night.

This desired comfort of the mind is even more sinister. Once great physical comforts are attained, the mind seeks to ease any internal hardship. Eventually removed are questioning, doubting, self-examination, and judgement. The post-modernist view become the ultimate comfort, removing any need for moral examination, for what the mind thinks becomes moral.

The seeking of comfort becomes a sort of poison. It holds no merit on its own. It can be valuable to attain on the way to some other goal or purpose, but as a goal or purpose it will be ultimately unfulfilling.

Nearly everything worth achieving in this life requires some degree of hardship, mental effort, or temporary pain. The learning and change of palate required in healthy eating, the temporary pain needed for fitness, the exposure to judgement in the publishing of art, the self-discipline of a spiritual practice, and the compromising sacrifice of a relationship. When we expose ourselves to the discomforts needed to attain these things, the comforts they do eventually provide will be that much sweeter.

Be wary though of the mantra “don’t get comfortable” leveraged for irresponsibility. Assuming discomfort always means “change,” it can be used in its own way as an excuse to avoid an uncomfortable situation. Someone in a struggling business, project, or relationship might bail when things start getting rocky instead of toughing it out, saying, “I don’t want to let myself get comfortable.” Getting comfortable is exactly what they have in mind. Also do not seek discomfort for discomfort’s sake either. Simply seek to remove comfort as the primary motivator in any decision or path taken. It should be an effect, not a reason.

Living the uncomfortable life requires a consistent examination of your own motives. It requires consistently exposing yourself to situations of hardship as a means of calibration. In this way experiences such as camping, exercise, volunteer work, ministry, and debate become touchstones that remind us of our existing comfort.
If you want a more comfortable bed you have two options, go spend thousands of dollars on a high end mattress, or sleep on the hard ground for a few nights before returning to the soft renewed comfort of your existing bed. Shelling out for the new mattress is not inherently wrong, but when we make comfort our primary goal, it becomes our only option.

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