The buzzing of the planet is a daily reminder of our mind-bending advances in technology. Our satellites glimmer amongst the stars in the evening sky, a sky that plays host to thousands of soaring planes during the daylight hours. Our technological prowess has vastly increased the comfort of our daily lives. Like most things, however, our technology comes with a cost. Everything from iPhones to automobiles cost us money, which puts a price tag on the comfort and convenience they provide us. Comfort has thus become a thing of value. It has become important to us.
The importance placed on comfort by our society has inspired in us a ruthless seeking of it. We centre our lives around obtaining things that will aid us in avoiding discomfort, pain, and suffering. Yet I’m beginning to wonder if this spread of a certain Epicureanism throughout the western world has actually bettered our lives, or if it’s part of the reason we live such unfulfilled and relatively unhappy lives.
Flashback nearly two years ago, to my life of comfort. I was the Dionysus of an eastern Toronto suburb and my basement apartment man-cave served as my Olympus. I lived at home rent free, had no university debt, and was earning a full-time wage I could have saved to buy a house and a car with. I had nearly a dozen close friends close by, whom I had grown up with on the ice rinks and considered them more like brothers than friends. I had the best all-you-can-eat sushi joint just around the corner from my house. I had a gym buddy who was actually a ninja. I possessed the disposable income to do and purchase essentially whatever I pleased. I was a tree of comfort, and my roots were strong and deep. Life was painfully easy.
But I was unhappy. I was stagnant. I was unfulfilled.
Fast-forward to the present. I have long since left my job, friends, and family. I have vacated my Mount Olympus throne to travel across the Pacific ocean. I traded a life of comfort for the pursuance of something more. As of now, I’m uncomfortable, but I’m happy and feeling more fulfilled every day. I wouldn’t disillusion anyone and say anything about this has been easy, comfortable, or painless. Law school is a grind. Money is tight. I’m homesick. I miss my sisters, my mom and dad, my band of brothers/thieves/merry men. And I haven’t seen a single ninja since I landed here.
Yet is that pain and suffering not the price we pay for fulfilment, for happiness? Isn’t that our inherent agreement with the universe we are a part of? I look around myself and see that we naturally understand this contract.
I’ve seen “No Pain, No Gain” on gym singlets and “Pain is Temporary, Glory lasts Forever.” splattered on dressing room walls. I see all of us – the warriors of love – seeking out a significant other regardless of the pain relationships have caused us in the past, or the heartbreak we could be forced to endure in the future. We take the tests regardless of the chance of failure, or the immense effort required to study and learn. We play our various sports, knowing we’ll be bumped, bruised, and judged. We train our bodies to be strong through toil, trouble, and tears, even though they will eventually wither under the taxes of time. We paint, write, and dance, undeterred by the visions of the starving artist. We love our families and friends to the fullest, knowing the pain we’ll feel when they are inevitably taken from us. We do these things because we innately understand the nature of fulfilment.
What if pleasure and displeasure were so tied together that whoever wanted to have as much as possible of one must also have as much as possible of the other — that whoever wanted to learn to “jubilate up to the heavens” would also have to be prepared for “depression unto death”?” – Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science.
We know that the treasure of fulfilment is closely guarded by pain, suffering, and discomfort; the three heads of a hellhound protecting the gateway to happiness. We know that the most uncomfortable places are the classrooms where we learn and grow the most. We know that catching that perfect wave is worth the endless paddling, the hours of waiting, and the salt we get in our hair. We understand that the discomfort of rising in the early morning is the price of watching a stunning saffron sunrise. We know that trading the uninspiring view from base camp for the breathtaking scenery of the summit requires hours of treacherous hiking up the side of the mountain.
I think it’s entirely possible to live your whole life in comfort, confronted by minimal pain and suffering. I think this very moment there are many people who are dying in their retirement home beds who managed to accomplish this. I also believe that those same people would be willing to trade all of the days they lived in comfort for one chance to go back to their youth. They would go back and put themselves directly in the path of that same pain, suffering, and discomfort they have avoided all these years. For in doing so, they would also risk a life of happiness and fulfilment.
Don’t settle for comfort. Take the risk. Catch that perfect wave. Watch the sunrise. Fall in love. Climb that mountain.
…..I do miss that sushi joint though.
Be good to each other,