Does comfort equal pleasure?
Moments ago I was sitting on a very cushy couch watching the waves of Lake Simco lap almost right to my doorstep. The weather is absolutely perfect and I was feeling drowsy and sedated. “What a great moment for a midday nap,” I thought. A gnawing voice was tugging at me annoyingly suggesting, “Wouldn’t now be a great time to write that blog you’ve been talking about for the last month?” A different voice which was more of a feeling rather than a clear expression said, “You can’t do it, it’s too difficult, too involved, just push it off a bit longer.” I thought, “Writing the blog will be more fulfilling and once I get started I’m sure it will flow. Now let’s go make a cup of coffee, have a chocolate croissant and write that blog.” The draw of a little physical pleasure was enough to convince my heart that the fulfillment of writing this blog would supercede the comfort of a midday nap.
To analyze the question, Does comfort equal pleasure, I must seek definitions. What is comfort? The Oxford dictionary defines comfort as: “consolation; relief in affliction.” That means that comfort is alleviating discomfort. That sounds more like just getting by than actual pleasure. What is pleasure? The Oxford dictionary defines pleasure as: “a feeling of satisfaction or joy.” Clearly the two words have distinct meanings. But, is our capacity to experience pleasure contingent upon our level of comfort? Human beings are built to be pleasure-seekers. So the questions must be asked, “If comfort alone does not ensure pleasure, what brings pleasure to human beings?” And, “Why is comfort so often confused for pleasure?”
When I ask myself what brings me the most pleasure and joy in life? I instantly picture my children’s faces. Nothing lights me up
more than seeing them enjoy themselves. Anyone who has children knows what I mean. Conversely, when I ask myself what is the source of my greatest discomfort? Again, anyone who has children can attest that the hardest thing they’ve probably ever done is raise children. How can it be that my greatest source of pleasure and joy in life is the same source of my greatest discomfort? I also get great pleasure from the relationship with my wife, but I must admit that marriage is a real challenge. Could it be that comfort is just a state of not being in pain, but does not equal true pleasure? Many of us, including myself may have lived a great deal of our lives making decisions guided by the misconception that comfort is the ultimate goal without ever really analyzing the question. Many of today’s young adults are choosing to simply not get married, or put it off till mid life. Really, who needs the
responsibility of children and married life? I sometimes reminisce of sleeping till noon, or just playing guitar on the California beach for as long as I pleased free of all responsibility.
Whenever we are uncomfortable we automatically seek some way of alleviating the discomfort. The problem is that the discomfort is there to alert us to something that we can improve on and change. We are being sent messages to alert us to growth opportunities and the wise response would be to listen and introspect. These signals can manifest in many aspects of our life. One example that we can all relate to is experiencing discomfort at some point in a personal relationship, whether with a spouse or sibling or friend. The discomfort is there as a signal that something has to change. It may be that we haven’t learned to communicate clearly, or aren’t creating proper boundaries in our lives, or are impatient, or too selfish etc. The very reason our souls were sent into this world is to develop our character traits and improve. If we find some way of attaining comfort in those moments of strife, like avoiding it by using drugs or distracting ourselves with T.V. or shopping, or ice cream etc. and don’t identify and confront the issue, we are merely avoiding the discomfort at the cost of procrastinating on improving this character trait. When we confront, identify, work hard and improve, it is truly satisfying. This discomfort and subsequent pleasure when making the character correction were there to guide us into doing what we came into this world to do; become mature
I remember one time, I was driving my comfy suv down Venice blvd. The weather was a perfect 80 degrees and there was a really rockin song on the radio. I was wearing black leather pants, spiky hair, and had my arm propped on the open window. I noticed a wheelchair that seemed to be stuck on the sidewalk and not able to move. A thought coursed through my head “just ignore it and keep driving” but, somehow I couldn’t, so I pulled over to check it out. It turned out to be a mostly paralyzed man on an electric wheelchair which was malfunctioning. He had been stuck out in the sun for quite a while and no one had noticed him. I wanted to help him, but needed help myself to move approximately 200 pounds of dead weight and this electric wheelchair. I stood at the side of the road and flagged down a pickup truck. The driver of the pickup and I lifted this man into my suv. He had a tube coming out of his clothes attached to a bag of urine which was so full it was overflowing a bit. I was put off by the smell and worried about the interior of my nice car, but come on, this was a human being! The experience was jerking me out of my imaginary world where all that existed was this rockin song on the radio, my comfy, cool ride and the sweet waves of the California beach. We hoisted the wheelchair up onto the pickup truck and drove to the man’s house. At home he had a ramp to the door of his cute little decorated house and I wheeled him in in his other non electric wheelchair. We chatted a bit. He had a nice collection of cds and turned out to be a big music fan. He was actually a really cool guy despite his difficulty moving his hands and forming clear words.
The whole experience was pretty unpleasant at the time, but looking back in retrospect, it was one of those great moments in life.
“Remember the time I helped that guy in the wheelchair.” One of the greatest pleasures in life is doing the right thing. It gives our life value. We actually respect ourselves when we’re contributors to making the world a better place. Usually it’s not so pleasant to do the right thing at the moment we’re doing it, but we can appreciate it afterwards. The rules seems to be, that the greater the pleasure, the greater the price. Physical pleasure is the easiest to attain, but also the fastest to fade out and leaves us wanting more. That’s why so many people have a midlife crisis even though they have attained wealth and honor.
Jewish tradition teaches that the world was created for human beings to attain pleasure. The greatest pleasure possible is one that must be earned through free will choices. If it was simply given to us we would be ashamed to merely be on the receiving end. On the other hand, by working to attain that pleasure we actually own it and it’s ours forever. We can all relate to the idea that the when someone climbs a mountain, the view from the top is much more enjoyable than for the one who took the chair lift to the top. It’s the accomplishment of the journey that we really enjoy, not the view alone. The view is just a gift that awaits us at the top to reward our efforts. So too, at the end of our lives (may it be after a healthy 120) we will look back and feel the joy of our accomplishments and good choices even though they were hard to achieve at the time. Sometimes all it takes is a little coffee and chocolate to persuade our bodies to make the right choices. I’m glad that I decided to write this blog instead of taking a nap. It was a good choice that I am proud of. May we merit to recognize the pleasure that comes from challenging ourselves in life and be
conscious of it daily, choosing proactivity in effecting the world with positive actions rather than taking the easy and comfortable road which tempts us with the promise of true value and fulfillment through transitory things, yet leaves us empty and searching in the end.