Comfort is Not Happiness

I spend a lot of time reading, thinking, and writing about happiness.

For years before I started writing here, I was just looking for ways to improve my own life. I wanted to understand why people who seemed like they had everything were still unhappy.

I wanted to find the traps that others fell into so that I could avoid them.

It is quite clear to me at this point that most people are not as happy as they could be. 

And I believe that the main culprit is mistaking comfort for happiness.

Work vs. TV

We have to go to work.

Working is something that everyone has to do and most people dislike. We spend all day at work and then we get to reward ourselves by coming home and watching some television.

If you ask someone whether they would prefer to be at work or to be at home watching TV, they would laugh at you. Obviously everyone prefers television to their job.

The problem is that studies have found we’re all wrong.

One example is a study by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi that interrupted people during the day and had them write down what they were doing and how they were feeling. The study found that we’re happier at work than we are at home watching television.

We favor television because it is comfortable.

But comfort is not happiness.

Fight Your Instincts

People are happy when they are overcoming challenges.

This is true whether we are at work, playing a video game, practicing a musical instrument, or any number of other endeavors.

We are happy when we are achieving. We are happy when we are growing. We are happy when we are improving.

But these are not the things for which we naturally strive. Our instincts actually push us away from difficult things.

After millions of years of evolution, our bodies and minds don’t want us to waste our energy doing something just to be happy when we might have to fight a saber-toothed tiger later.

Our instincts push us towards the comfortable.

We need to remind ourselves that comfort is not happiness.

Spending Money on Comfort

The reminder that comfort and happiness are not the same can also be applied to hedonic adaptation.

The nicer car may be more comfortable, but it won’t make you happier.

The bigger house with the modern finishes is a lot more comfortable, but studies show that after a short injection of happiness you will lose out there, too.

There is obviously a difference between spending your time on comfort and spending your money on comfort. I would argue that both harm your happiness to an extent.

Spending your time on comfort is more directly harmful to your happiness. Spending a Saturday watching television means that you aren’t using that time writing a novel, planting a garden, or any other achievement-oriented work. All of these activities would make you happier.

Spending your money on comfort is more about the opportunity cost. Buying a Camry is not going to make you happier than buying a Maserati. Sorry.

But the money you save could be spent on something that would make you happier. 

You’d be happier if you spent that money on a vacation. Or invested it so that you could retire early and have more control over your time. You’d even be happier if you gave it away.

Comfort is Not Happiness

If we want to live happier lives, the first thing we need to recognize is that comfort is not happiness.

While our instincts will push us towards the path of least resistance, we need to fight back.

We need to recognize that challenge is happiness. Growth is happiness. Achievement is happiness. Improvement is happiness.

Comfort is not happiness.

15 thoughts on “Comfort is Not Happiness”

  1. This is a great reminder. When I have a slow day at work I’m actually much less satisfied with my job. But when I have a busy day full of meetings and tasks, I feel a lot more satisfied with how I spent my time. It’s kind of surprising, because having nothing to do seems like the dream, but it’s really not.
    Mrs. Picky Pincher recently posted…5 Ways To Save Money In The Long RunMy Profile

  2. I love the perspective you write from and the thoughts you share on this blog.

    (I’d comment even more but I don’t want to appear to be around because of CommentLuv :>)

    The way you look at and analyze things, in yourself and what you see around you, is pretty unique and thought-provoking. I love deep-thinkers and you’re in that category. Keep it up!
    Brad – recently posted…How To Create A Triple-Tax-Free Million Dollar Retirement PlanMy Profile

  3. Comfort is definitely not happiness! It really comes down to creation vs. consumption. I think the duality of dreading work and still rating ourselves as happier while working has to do with producing/creating during work, but not creating/producing what we find most meaningful or improving on the things we care about most. But because we’re so focused on believing we aren’t happy at work, I think we fail to ask ourselves the truly important question that is “If I weren’t working, what would I prefer to spend my time improving?”, and without thinking of answering this question, we kind of just end up consuming TV on the couch because, well, answering that question is really hard.
    Jing recently posted…3 Times My Savings Saved MeMy Profile

  4. This is such a difficult lesson to actualize. Changing in order to overcome challenges can be petrifying–even when we know happiness awaits us on the other side.
    But it’s so true. More often than not I’ve looked back on my decisions with frustration that I didn’t make necessary changes sooner. That I didn’t force myself to be uncomfortable and sat in unhappiness longer than necessary.
    Such a great post, Matt.
    Femme Frugality recently posted…Rules for Gifting Money at a WeddingMy Profile

    1. I’m with you. I find that it feels better to procrastinate change for as long as possible, but looking back I am often annoyed that I didn’t change sooner. I’ve never looked back and thought, “Man…I wish I had put that off longer.”

      Thanks for the comment!
      Matt recently posted…As Happy as an Old PersonMy Profile

    1. For sure. If we are always go go go we will burn ourselves out, so breaks and comfort are definitely a part of a happy life. We just need to use it as a supplement rather than as a goal in and of itself.

      Thanks for stopping by, Emily!
      Matt recently posted…As Happy as an Old PersonMy Profile

  5. Great post Matt!!! Doing difficult things in life once they are accomplished definitely give me a sense of pride and make me feel good. There are very few shows that I watch that give me that feeling of pride afterwards 🙂 I am glad that I’ve cut back on TV over the years and started to pursue some other avenues 🙂
    Mustard Seed Money recently posted…From Homeless to Hopeful in One YearMy Profile

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