the difference between comfort and happiness


Yesterday someone posted this great link on facebook: 10 things most Americans don't know about America. (They posted a reprint of it, I'm linking to the original source here. Go read it, I'll wait.)

And there I was, nodding away (since I've actually lived outside the US, albeit "just" in Canada, there's a lot I already know here, even though I do fall into the liberal trap of thinking everyone else hates us sometimes).

And then WHAM, number ten: we mistake comfort for happiness.

Listen. This is not a new truth. Many, many, many great writers and thinkers (including Pink Floyd) have expanded on the idea of having to get out of your comfort zone to make great changes, in order to improv one's life (and happiness levels).

But it hadn't occurred to me yet that many people (most people? just Americans? some Americans? most Americans?) can't differentiate between happiness and comfort.

(Or maybe it had occurred to me and this was another epiphany that seemingly comes out of the blue but it is in fact a retelling of the truths I already knew. :shrug)

Some of the most amazing, life changing, happy-makiing things I've done in my life have come about as a result of actively putting myself in discomfort. Childbirth is maybe the biggest, best example, but there are other, less painful ones, too. (Putting our house on the market and moving from Alabama to NJ is my next best example. That was truly uncomfortable, at times, but led to an immediate lift in both my personal and our family happiness levels once it was over.)

I pride myself, in fact, in being able to put myself through minor discomfort ("it's just pain") in order to achieve desirable ends. And I have often (and often outloud) wondered why other people don't seem to have that ability/ desire.

This ability to withstand discomfort - albeit with (sometimes a lot* of) complaining - is something that works against me, too. I can get stuck in discomfort and forget to apply simple comfort measure that can move things along more efficiently. Perfect example of this: in labor, I stayed hanging on the side of the birth tub for far too long, as contractions got more and more painful. I felt I couldn't move. When the suggestion to change positions finally got through to me (I think it was finally put to me, wisely,  as a very simple command, "lean back!"), the pain relief was immediate and I felt regret that I hadn't been able to listen earlier.

I see this stubbornness in Remy, of course, who is one of the happiest human beings I've ever known. He's willing to be all sorts of uncomfortable in order to get through to the happiness.

It never occurred to me that comfort could be mistaken for happiness. Comfort is awesome, don't get me wrong. Being comfortable is a great starting point. (Comfort: not being too hot, too cold, in pain, hungry, dehydrated, fatigued, etc... Comfort is Goldilock's "just right.")

But happiness is so much more than that. Happiness is acceptance of what is, at a fundamental level that allows for discomfort (and even pain). That's why I could be happy, even while I was sick this past ten days. (I woke up this morning and did not need to take ibuprofen! I celebrate the little things, yes I do!)

Happiness is not "comfortably numb." Happiness is active and engaged, gratitude for what is (instead of wanting what what isn't/ can't be).

I've always attributed this capacity of mine, btw, to my being asthmatic. I learned at a very young age that sometimes I am just going to be in pain/ unable to breath easily. This is just a fact of my existence. I will get sick more than many other people. I will have a hard time breathing sometimes. I will have allergies that leave me unable to perform to my fullest. I can still be (and am) happy.

I wonder now, though, if it isn't a combination of things. Including genetics. 

I am not immune to the lure of comfort. But I am also not immune to the pull of happiness and the willingness to step outside of my comfort zone to achieve things I need to improve my happiness levels. And I think that's something worth cultivating, so I do.

Your mileage may vary.