Freedom from comfort

As a kid, I played a game called The Sims, a life simulation game in which you create virtual people called Sims and help them satisfy their desires. Each Sim had its own set of meters for energy, appetite, hygiene and several more needs. A meter I found particularly interesting was comfort.

Not unlike humans, Sims got moody when they stood up for a while or faced prolonged discomfort. For maximum happiness, they needed luxurious chairs, a comfortable bed and an expensive bathtub.

We tend to apply a similar logic to our own pursuit of happiness. As we grow, we invest lots of time and money creating a comfortable living space, assuming that, like Sims, added comfort will provide us higher well-being. But how wise of an investment is this?

Comfort as a drug

Have you ever noticed how quickly you get used to new “toys”? Whether it’s a next-gen phone or a cozy couch, things lose their freshness rapidly. The satisfying buzz they provide doesn’t last, because our brain gets accustomed and ends up taking them for granted.

It is common knowledge that relying on drugs for happiness is an ineffective strategy; the body eventually demands more stimuli to feel “okay” and brings one into a downward spiral of endless fixes. But this pattern of needing more and more to feel all right isn’t unique to drugs.

Although comforts—like drugs—provide temporary relief and pleasure, we tend to get accustomed to them. We then require more luxuries to keep the same sense of satisfaction and begin chasing new toys. You might know from experience how easy inflating your lifestyle is, but rarely do we see people willingly lowering their consumption level.

People living a luxurious lifestyle may seem to have it great. But they’re hardwired like you. They too are used to their own degree of comfort. Regardless of how extravagant their consumption may seem, they aren’t feeling much different; they envy those having more and wouldn’t be comfortable living with less. They need more to feel like you.

There are many things we get used to and then believe we need. By increasing our needs in this fashion, we become increasingly dependent on our environment to feel satisfied. We raise the bar for what we find acceptable, thus making happiness a bit harder. Like spoiled children, each new convenience transforms us into a slightly pickier and somewhat more intolerant version of ourselves. Our roots gets stiffer and we lose flexibility.

Getting accustomed to some level of material comfort is like needing a constant drug fix to feel okay. This is a dangerous gamble, because external circumstances can change unpredictably. What if comfort didn’t require as much stuff?

Freedom from comfort

Fundamentally, comfort is simply a healthy, non-reactive relationship to physical sensations. It isn’t found in objects: a mattress isn’t comfortable unless you are comfortable in it. I believe we have more to gain from developing a mind that’s at ease in changing circumstances than from filling our environment with artificial comforts.

How free would you feel if you were comfortable with discomfort?

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7 thoughts on “Freedom from comfort

  1. Lemperiere

    “Most of the luxuries, and many of the so called comforts of life, are not only not indispensable, but positive hinderances to the elevation of mankind. With respect to luxuries and comforts, the wisest have ever lived a more simple and meagre life than the poor.” Henry David Thoreau.

    Reply
  2. Eric

    Hey Gabriel,

    I really like the topic of this article. I’m planning a long term trip to Asia and one of my goals is to learn how to live with less (I just got rid of my bed, after reading that sleeping on the floor is often healthier for your back). It would be nice if you included in the article some specific ways in which you are living with less comfort, or you have avoided living more comfortably.

    Best,
    Eric

    Reply
  3. Bethlehem

    Strangely all my life I’ve always sacrificed comfort for freedom without fully understanding my own reasons. Its always been a strong natural force from inside thats driven me to sometimes act “irrationally” according to my family; to the point where they sometimes think am nuts. The restrictions and impositions connected to the comfort were never worth my peace of mind and freedom to explore and do whatever I want (this is seen as reckless by my family as it does not help one to survive in this world). They might be right to a certain extent because as I got older (I’m 28 now) I’ve noticed the negative impact of not balancing my freedom with “obligations” such as budgeting for the future, being financially independent, etc. I think am currently in the in-between stages of a “lion going back to being a camel” until I find a solution that will enable me to operate with sustainable freedom, thereby allowing me to create my own meaning like “the child”. I don’t know if you know of any books / videos or other information that would help my situation. If you do, please email me.
    Am seeking balance without sacrificing my freedom and at the same time not letting those “financial planning” obligations drag me down to becoming a drone.

    Reply
    1. Gabriel Rocheleau Post author

      Hello Bethlehem!

      Thanks so much for commenting on my post. I can relate to a lot of what you’ve said. I’ve also always had the tendency to prioritize freedom over comfort, sometimes in irrational ways. Over the last few years though, I’ve realized that my resistance to some obligations in the name of “freedom” were actually detrimental to long-term freedom.

      Actually, I find that the pursuit of “full freedom” in day-to-day life is … illusory. I’ve been guilty of striving to eliminate all forms of chains, regardless of what they tied me to. In this process, I’ve obviously gained some freedom, but lost other “freedoms”. An easy example: I once resisted the idea of living in a fixed place because I saw it as too restrictive. Yet, by living as a nomad, I also discarded other freedoms. I didn’t consistently have an inspiring place to practice and compose music. I struggled to find supportive environments to meditate, as I was always on the move. I didn’t have the freedom to grow a garden, to invite friends over, etc.

      Instead of pursuing freedom directly, I feel like we should focus on prioritizing what’s important to us. For example, you might, like me, prefer free time to possessions, or a low-stress environment to a goal-oriented one. It’s easy to do what’s best for us when we put things in this way instead of trying to chase freedom.

      You mention financial obligations dragging you down. That’s a very common theme, even for “normal” people who don’t particularly value being free. In my opinion though, you are never free unless your financial life is healthy. Basically, if you are struggling to make ends meet, or for example getting in debts, you are depending on your environment to survive, and are therefore stuck in your lifestyle.

      So many people want “freedom” yet the best lifestyle they come up with is trading 6 months of work for 6 months of travel. In my view, there are more sustainable ways to live free. My view of freedom is intimately related to independence, and a major part of independence in today’s world is financial independence. This simply means having enough material resources to live for X amount of time (preferably for life). The freedom brought about by such a situation is remarkable.

      The good news is, since you’re not too concerned with material comforts, it should be fairly easy to accumulate the material resources needed to live for a while. It’s much harder to be financially free when you feel like you “need” tons of stuff. Of course, I wouldn’t advocate working your ass off in a mindless job to accumulate such wealth. However, by being savvy, you can surely find ways to ally these goals to increase your short-term AND long-term freedom. Don’t fall in the trap of living as a means to an end though, since this develops unhealthy mental habits (treating the present as something unimportant, chasing the future, etc.).

      As far as resources go, you might enjoy reading The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich or this blog : http://www.mrmoneymustache.com which deals with financial independence

      I wish you the best!
      Gabriel R.

      Reply

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