As I walked to work last Thursday on a breezy, brisk (one might say down right cold) 12 degree morning, I noticed the slow onset of pain in my fingers, as the blood left them and moved towards the center of my body. This is an amazing evolutionary adaptation which basically keeps our most important organs functioning in really cold weather, but anyways. The wind bit my face and the hair on the back of my neck stood on end. It was cold, and I am guessing like many others, I found myself thinking, I wish it would warm up a little.
Along the same lines, I also often find myself longing for changes in the weather during summers in the Triangle. For me, they are too hot and humid. I don’t like 90 degrees and 90 percent humidity. When I am out working in that kind of weather, and instantaneously the sweat starts beading up on my forehead and rolling down my back, I just want to get out of it, into the comfort of my air conditioned house. But in moments like both of these (hot and cold) I often have to tell myself to stop, and instead I try to be mindful and present with the discomfort, and I have realized that being uncomfortable is a really good thing.
It seems like the majority of engineering, innovation, and technology today is geared towards making things easier or making people more comfortable: lotion and baby wipe warmers, driver and passenger side climate control in cars, heated floors, the newest fastest computer and cell phone, and of course all the grab and go, disposable EVERTHING! They all seem really nice and why shouldn’t we buy, use, and throw away all these comforts? We shouldn’t because too much comfort is not good for any part of our health, even our mental health. According to brain scientist Gregory Berns of Emory University School of Medicine, “The two key factors in long-term life satisfaction are novelty and challenge,” and being too comfortable does not allow for either of these. Additionally, it is also not good for the health of the environment, the workers who make these cheap disposable products, and it is not even good for you in the long run.
In order to learn, we have to step out of our comfort zone, and in order to appreciate the good we have to experience a little bit of the bad. I hope that you understand that I am not promoting constant discomfort, pain, or suffering. I cannot tell you where that line is for you, and it is different for everybody. I am simply saying that resilience, growth, and mental and physical health are often born from a small bit of discomfort. Exercising often hurts, but it makes you stronger and healthier. Eating healthy food is not always fun, but it allows you to really appreciate the “comfort foods” when you have them once in a while. Resilience and positive ways of dealing with stress are often achieved in the presence of adversity. And to bring me back to where I started, in order to appreciate that perfect 75-80 degree, sunny, low humidity day and really be mindful of how great it is, sometimes you need to sweat and sometimes you need to freeze (a little). If you live your life in a climate controlled world, with every want and need met, and no discomfort, you never grow.