a look at why we tolerate being comfortable and uncomfortable simultaneously

Some friends in a tunnel | Kamakura, Kanagawa

Some friends in a tunnel | Kamakura, Kanagawa

I realized something strange. Often, when I’m at my most comfortable, I’m not actually very comfortable.

What? Well, consider the duality of the word itself: rather than fitting within a single, all-inclusive definition like a good-little-word, comfort extends to [at least] two spectrums: personal and social.

Personal comfort is what I call coziness. Coziness might include warming yourself up in a shower after forgetting to bring a jacket to work after a cold day, the satisfaction of spending quality time with a quality friend, or, if you’re like me, finally near-gulping your first cup of coffee far too many hours later than usual. It’s the feeling we have in moments where our actual wants are met and can apply to our physical bodies or our mental state.

I have a less-nice name for social comfort: conformity. Conformity applies whenever you make yourself comfortable in a social situation, and can be as subtle as influencing what you wear when you go for a short walk in public and God-forbid someone sees you wearing that shirt with those shorts, or as severe as queuing-up for something when you’re barely 45% certain you’re in the right queue but, since it would draw attention to walk past the line and check, you remain content to wait-it-out. It’s the feeling we have in moments when our social wants are met (i.e. not being considered off-beat) but our actual wants are at risk of being sacrificed.

Why? Enter self-consciousness, a crucial navigator in your social life. Self-consciousness keeps you in check, not standing out, conformed, disregarding your deeper1 desires.

Self-consciousness is what makes us comfortable and uncomfortable simultaneously: essentially it will influence us to be conformed before we are cozy. As social creatures, we humans often value our social comforts higher than our personal comforts. Sure, sweatpants are cozier than jeans, but if you wear them to the supermarket you’ll stand out, other people might think you’re a slob, “oh yikes look at that stain”—you won’t be conforming.

Re-considering the phrase “being out of your comfort zone” takes on a richer meaning in this context. I now find it applicable whenever you sacrifice a social- for a personal comfort, conformity for coziness. Really, coziness exists beyond wrapping yourself into a soft burrito or soaking in a hot bath, it might instead be the satisfaction of having delivered a great speech in front of a group of strangers—or simply the confidence to wear sweatpants every-other-time you go to the supermarket.

We can all agree that our physical and mental comforts should2 hold priority over our social concerns, but we can all also agree that we should eat healthier, act more compassionately, and c’mon Trey at least try to exercise regularly.

Thoughts? Remarks? Complaints? Let’s talk about it—leave a comment in the section below.


The Dread Pirate Trey


1. Not shallow.

2. A friend recently expressed her belief that “should” is the worst word in the English language.