I like camping holidays, but with one clear proviso. I like to sleep when I am on holiday. I will no longer curl up on a mat in a sleeping bag. I can’t get comfortable and suffer disturbed sleep. I want a mattress with sheets and quilt. The comforts of home: that’s what I need.
Writing from an evolutionary perspective, Harvard professor Daniel Lieberman warns of the seductions of comfort: ‘we frequently mistake comfort for well-being’. He points out that wearing shoes brings problems for our feet. Reading books brings problems for our eyes. Sitting on chairs brings problems for our backs. And, above all, sedentary lifestyles heap upon us a wide range of chronic diseases. These comforts are all relatively recent and welcome innovations. But our bodies did not evolve with these behaviours in mind. The pursuit of comfort may thus be a prescription for disease.
We naturally crave comfort. The reward sensors in our brains are well tuned to those elements of our lives that relieve stress, pain and hunger. Hunter-gatherers will have rested at all opportunity to conserve vital energy amidst the chase for supper. But has our desire for comfort tricked us into unforeseen danger?
Those of us in sedentary work are being encouraged to stand up more regularly. We are all being nudged towards more active leisure. The idea of comfort is good. But the practice of it has its downsides. We will need a fresh self-awareness – a body-awareness – to balance our comfort levels with the needs of healthy bodies and minds.
Just as Our Health provides an idea for social and cultural change, so it suggests a more dynamic notion of being. Pursuing health with others may encourage us to embrace a more dynamic perception of our bodies.