Comfort Coma

By Greg Baer M.D.

November 24, 2017

Comfortable. What a great word. It evokes images of sitting in an easy chair, warm, dry, fed, and without any discomfort. For most people, it’s actually the highest goal of life. Given the choice, who would choose discomfort over comfort?

So why am I even talking about a condition—comfort—that is almost universally accepted? Because comfort can induce a kind of intellectual and emotional coma that can lead to permanent disability and even death.

Many studies have shown that animals released from captivity, where they are fed, protected, and, well, comfortable are, when compared with wild animals of the same species:

  • Less capable of finding sufficient food and more likely to die of starvation.
  • More likely to be attacked and killed by predators.
  • Less likely to form the social bonds with other animals that promote breeding and survival.
  • Less likely to establish, maintain, and increase territories for eating and breeding.

In summary, once captive animals learn that comfort is the highest goal possible, they become crippled. This condition is so common in animals and humans—more so in the latter—that is has been given a name: learned helplessness. Learned helplessness occurs when people or animals feel helpless to avoid negative situations and helpless to broaden their scope of behaviors, many of which could lead to greater happiness.

Not a day goes by without people telling me that they want their lives to be better. This can’t happen, of course, without some form of emotional stretching or exertion. People claim they want to change, but they won’t do anything that involves any discomfort—even if it’s just the temporary emotional discomfort that is inevitable with trying something different.

We are so addicted to comfort—however low the standard for that might be—that we avoid any change, and in the process we lose all possibility of growth and joy.

I’ve experienced firsthand a number of surgical procedures, and they all involved considerable post-operative pain. I reasoned, however, that without each procedure, I was in pain anyway, and my function and mobility were significantly impaired. So what did I have to lose? And each procedure did increase my function and mobility, after the initial discomfort wore off. Emotionally a similar sacrifice is required. It is not possible to change without altering our beliefs and perspectives, and that is almost always uncomfortable initially.

But our single-minded focus on the avoidance of pain is strong, so I know many people who hobble about in pain for years, because they refuse the much shorter—but unknown—pain of a surgical procedure. Some of these people become bedridden. I know even more people who become emotionally crippled because they will not take the steps that would eliminate their pain.

Moreover, as we protect ourselves and acquire Imitation Love, those activities fill up our time and our souls so completely that we don’t have the time or emotional capacity to even consider a path of love and truth. On several occasions I have watched a large Burmese python ingest so much food that his belly bulged to an astonishing extent. This is not unusual for large snakes, but the price they pay is that then they are so weighted down by and occupied with digestion of their meal that they can scarcely move, and they become much more vulnerable to predators. They become nearly comatose with comfort—sometimes fatally so.

Emotionally, we must be aware that there is an endless list of thoughts, feelings, and activities that will give us comfort but not growth. We can even use these to an extent that we experience a comfort coma, which is very dangerous. The absence of pain—however much better that might seem than simply enduring pain—is not the same as happiness, not even close.

Until we are willing to experience some discomfort in our life’s journey, we’ll be stuck. We’ll be filled with pleasure—like the python—but unable to move forward toward the higher goals that will produce genuine happiness.

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About the author 

Greg Baer, M.D.

I am the founder of The Real Love® Company, Inc, a non-profit organization. Following the sale of my successful ophthalmology practice I have dedicated the past 25 years to teaching people a remarkable process that replaces all of life's "crazy" with peace, confidence and meaning in various aspects of their personal lives, including parenting, marriages, the workplace and more.

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