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?