How Too Much Comfort Is Making You Miserable
Roughing it now and then may be the secret to a more contented life
The journalist Michael Easter once spent a month in the Arctic Circle, tracking a herd of caribou for a national magazine story.
After 33 days in the backcountry — lugging an 80-pound pack through forests and tundra, spending each night outdoors in a tent — Easter says that his reunion with running water almost brought him to tears.
“I was in this little bathroom at an airfield in Kotzebue, Alaska,” he recalls. “When that warm water hit my face, it was like, oh my god. I think I let it run over my hands for about 20 minutes.”
In his new book, The Comfort Crisis, Easter makes the case that modern life may be too cushy for our emotional and psychological well-being. When all of our most fundamental needs (food, warmth, safety) are so thoroughly and perpetually satisfied, he says we not only lose our appreciation for what we have but we also “move the goalposts” and fixate on social comparisons that make us miserable.
Easter is quick to point out that his book is for people with “first-world problems.” It should go without saying that there’s a vast subset of Americans for whom deprivation or difficulty are not choices but the realities of daily life. But after acknowledging those truths, he says it’s also the case that “a lot of people don’t realize how good they have it because they’ve never had it bad.”
Too often, we treat choices and luxuries as though they are obligations and necessities. “We live life like it’s a checklist,” he says. “You’ve got to go to college, get a job, get a car, get a nicer car, get a house, get married — and if you don’t, you’re a loser. But all of this is societally conditioned, and it doesn’t stop once we check off all these items.”
One of the best ways to counteract this unhelpful conditioning, he says, is to engage in activities that expose your brain and body to periods of physical discomfort. “Go outside and be cold or hungry for a few days — be uncomfortable,” he urges.
When Easter started doing this himself, he realized that 99% of his life was “completely wonderful,” but that he was…