Post No.: 0402
Near the end of Post No.: 0394, I briefly remarked that overly comfortable lifestyles can perhaps breed weaknesses in us because we’ll get used to a high level of comfort and this may distort our perspectives as we take this comfort for granted rather than show gratitude for it. I’d like to explore that line of thought further in this post…
When getting used to comfort makes us weaker, this weakness can also contribute to our unhappiness – for example, the comfort of relying on one’s car too much to get around, which makes one unfit and consequently miserable about one’s health; or the comfort of eating only the foods we like, which makes it feel like a personal ‘hardship’ to eat anything we don’t quite like when other people are still starving in this world.
Those who otherwise shouldn’t struggle to survive because they really should have enough money to live on can create their own long-term miseries by seeking short-term comforts too much. What we want – such as luxuries or creature comforts all of the time – doesn’t always make us stronger, resilient or therefore happier in the long-term. We become physically and psychologically weaker if we over-depend on and take for granted the things that make our lives easier. This is perhaps a reason why, once we get used to the comfort that a certain level of wealth brings, the psychologically weaker we can become, hence we’ll always feel like we ‘need’ more to compensate for these weaknesses. Like caffeine reinforces the dependency on caffeine to feel alert, or not exercising enough reinforces the need to take the elevators and escalators to get around without feeling short of breath – comfortable living (as facilitated by luxuries) reinforces the ‘need’ for more comforts (and therefore more luxuries). Anything less than what we’ve gotten used to will feel like a relative ‘hardship’.
We generally seek to be personally lazier yet consume/use plenty of energy (e.g. food, gas, electricity) in the process. But comfort breeds weaknesses, and if one gets used to it but the environment suddenly changes for the tougher, one will find oneself in trouble. What’s tough but doesn’t kill or injure you makes you stronger, while what makes things easier for you makes you weaker, broadly speaking. It’s like lifting 15kg dumbbells feels easy when you were previously lifting 30kg dumbbells.
We’ve been clever to make living ever easier and easier for ourselves, but are we clever enough to realise that as new generations of lives get used to the ease and know no worse, they’ll become further removed from the tests and trials that help make them become both mentally and physically strong? No one’s saying that we should all occasionally experience what it’s like to be homeless to psychologically toughen us up, but lots of people seem physically and/or psychologically dependent on a lot of modern fuzzy creature comforts that they ‘couldn’t live without’. There’s a loss of proper perspective. Luxuries are like a blessing and a curse – they’re great if you currently have them but if you get used to them but then lose them then you might think you’re ‘suffering’.
Having greater financial wealth won’t guarantee us taking an ever-easier life, but there is a general trend. For example, the more a country can afford cars, the more the population will think that walking a few miles a day to get to work would be a miserable ‘hardship’, or the more a country can afford dishwashers, the more the population will think that washing dishes by hand would be a miserable ‘hardship’ – hence the term ‘First World problems’! For getting used to the comfort, many don’t even recognise how rich they are. Poorer immigrants start to do the manual jobs of cleaning because local folk find it too ‘unglamorous’. Some born-rich children even consider an honest day’s work of any kind a ‘hardship’(!) So the scope for greater unhappiness can increase the more used to being rich we become, because the more dependent we’ll be on money to compensate for the weaknesses that having lots of money can develop in the first place.
Although modern healthcare and medicine raises a lot of well-being for us today and we don’t face real existential threats to our lives anywhere near as frequently as our ancestors did – lots of us today live very stressful lives due to social comparisons facilitated by social media, we don’t get enough sleep due to modern distractions, we eat unhealthily due to highly-processed foods, we aren’t all physically active enough due to sedentary pastimes and we don’t see as much nature due to office work. Perhaps a simpler life would therefore be better? People may be generally living longer, but quality of life overall is better in some ways but worse in others.
If you buy a big house and so forth, it’ll cost a lot (and consume a lot environmentally) to sustain that kind of lifestyle, so there’s also a fear of falling back from that kind of life hence one stresses over trying to continue earning at least as much as one currently does, as if to downsize from this lifestyle would be a ‘hardship’.
Much of what we desire ends up narrowing our comfort zones, but we should try to keep our comfort zones wide. For example, except for the elderly, very young or ill, people should accept a degree of hot or cold rather than rely on air conditioning or central heating to always keep the temperature at a narrow range of preferred warmth.
A side-effect of an easy life is making even the simplest things personally seem relatively ‘hard’. Getting used to convenience foods too much can make home cooking seem like a ‘hardship’. People lose perspective of what to fear – some people who are used to driving and taxis are even scared of getting on public transport(!)
Many modern jobs don’t require much physical exertion so that’s why most of us need to voluntarily exercise to keep ourselves healthy, and such exercise needs to be pulse-raising enough to offer a benefit. If we don’t exercise then we’ll be physically weak. Due to the fact that modern life isn’t (or shouldn’t be) as stressful as in ancestral times, maybe we should also apply this principle of exercising to train us psychologically too – perhaps we do need to regularly do something like fasting, sleeping rough or similar? Lots of people are stressed out in modern life from little things despite there being fewer existential threats to their survival, but that might be partly due to people becoming psychologically weaker – in a similar way that lots of people in modern life find a little thing like walking a few miles tough but that’s only because they’ve become physically weaker?
So comfort engenders weakness, and weakness desires more comfort, which if obtained, engenders more weakness, etc.. Some of the smallest, sinewy people who live (happily) in the harshest places on Earth really emasculate most men who live in the ‘developed’ world who whinge about relatively trivial things! Attributes and behaviours like gluttony, laziness, excessive vanity and selfishness are things that can only be sustained in places of relative comfort.
Comfort might also engender complacency – a de-motivation for personal growth and change because one feels they’re not necessary. There’ll never be ‘ultimate’ beings, just complacent ones. The booms will tend to follow with busts. Evolution hasn’t halted, and a species can become less adaptable as well as more depending on how specialised it gets – in this case, by getting too used to comfortable environments and if these environments suddenly get much tougher. Comfortable environments or times can mask weaknesses that would be exposed elsewhere or in tougher times.
Where there are tougher survival pressures – as long as they’re not insurmountably tough – those who survive will be tough. So the genetically strongest will hypothetically come from the tougher ‘Third World’ rather than the easier ‘First World’, and those who had it tough will eventually overtake those who have it easy (if it weren’t for familial wealth inheritances and differences in opportunities in the human world). We find in wild nature that more challenging survival conditions produce more intelligent animals (e.g. Alaskan black-capped chickadees are smarter than Kansas black-capped chickadees). This should be logical. Some argue that it’s the labour-intensive rice-growing culture of China that partly explains their work ethic and economic success of today. However, as wealth increases, future generations of kids will likely get lazier, spoilt and pampered like in any other ‘developed’ country in the world.
People who live in tough, harsh places in the world are generally more resourceful, active, fitter, they want to go to school, they know they need to cooperate to survive, and they’re kind to others despite what little they have because they can empathise with the true hardships. People who live in easy, comfortable places are generally more wasteful, lazier, unfit, some may wish to play truant, many can be quite individualistic because their own money can keep them alive without needing others, and they can still be greedy despite how much they have. It illustrates that cooperation rather than selfishness is the best strategy for surviving in tough environments; just like keeping fit, loving education and recycling stuff or otherwise being resourceful is. (Indeed the environment is another reason why we need to consume less – the average carbon pawprint of those from wealthier nations is generally higher than those from less wealthier nations.) If too many people exhibit the opposite traits, it’s likely because they live in places with generally low actual hardship – those behaviours are only able to persist in pampered, comfortable environments. Weak behaviours can seem good enough when living in easy environments, but conditions can suddenly change. (Perhaps due to climate change?!)
If you’ve been raised to survive in tough conditions then you should be able to cope with living in easier conditions, but not necessarily vice-versa (despite overconfident beliefs of ‘I could do that if I wanted/had to’ – prove it to yourself). Convenience becomes expected rather than considered a bonus (e.g. feeling distressed when faced with eating a whole fish because you’re used to only eating pre-filleted and de-boned fish). So you’re not doing your children a favour by making things too easy or convenient for them because they’ll grow up thinking that anything less is a ‘hardship’ (and it’s all relative – if you find having to eat fish with bones a challenge then many people in the world find having no fish or dinner at all a challenge!) We surely want tough and resilient children who find happiness easier to obtain in a wider range of circumstances, rather than spoilt and fearful children who can only find contentment when everything is metaphorically or literally handed on a plate for them. Many kids get pocket money for doing nothing, while other kids in the world need to help work for their families yet get no pocket money at all; albeit a state of poverty isn’t healthy either.
The main point is that if you’re not in poverty then you should find few things related to money to complain about. If you earn enough for your physical needs, for safety and reasonable security then any stresses regarding money will be self-inflicted. They’d logically be psychological because your physical needs are met (or should be if you don’t live beyond your means). And really, in general, there are so few things in a modern lifestyle that’s truly tough.
So getting too regularly used to comfort can reduce our happiness levels because our expectations will be high and anything less than meeting that level of comfort will feel like a ‘hardship’ to us. Mentally stronger people are happier. The solutions are to periodically experience what true hardship is to recalibrate our perspectives, and to be grateful for what we’ve got rather than take things for granted.