Comfort: The Original Gateway Drug

Comfort. Comfortable. Comforting. Comfort food. Comfortless. Cold comfort. Outside the comfort zone. Too close for…

I was thinking about how comfort can drive so many of our decisions. Part of the problem is that comfort can mean ease or well-being, and it can mean to soothe or console. The distinction between physical and mental comfort is secondary if you view both options (well-being v. soothing) as being “relief from”.

The well-being side of comfort is “relief from” anything that threatens. Its preemptive more than preventative, an endless war of vigilance. The upside of this tack is that it seems to slowly reduce and narrow choices so there are fewer fronts to protect.

The soothing side of comfort is “relief from” what has happened. Its triage and first-aid. If a person is in a constant state of triage, can they adequately assess threats?

Enough war metaphors. Cozy blanket or mashed potatoes, escapist books or hours of TV, it all seems of a piece. Alcohol, chocolate and the constant use of electronic devices, we all find ways to soothe and hide – its easy to slide into a soft-addiction.

When I was a kid my mom would treat herself to a family sized Hershey bar when she had a bad day. Then she would take a nap for an hour or so and wake up as raging, screaming mommy. Turns out the chocolate didn’t actually “soothe” as much as put her in a diabetic crash that was hard to recover from. (Her diabetes wasn’t diagnosed until I was 16.)

I have another relative who makes every life choice based on not being uncomfortable – physically, mentally, socially – ever. She tries to control for all variables and if she can’t she is frighteningly awful to everyone around her. I don’t think she would have had children if she really understood the level of discomfort they bring to your routine and mental health. I remember her and her husband bragging about how they weren’t going to let a child dictate their lives. Cluelessness + hubris = Can’t wait to watch this unfold. I kept my mouth shut.

I am realizing lately that my usual comforts no longer provide much relief. Reflection, introspection, and worry intrude even in my sleep. What now? Can a person just decide what will give comfort? Retrain your habits a la Dr. Oz and every third issue of Oprah? “I choose jogging (or watercolors, or knitting, or making preserves) as my new soft addiction!”

Or something like that. Suggestions welcome.