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Comfort and Joy?

Updated: Nov 26, 2023

Jonathan Hoffman, PhD, ABPP


People often associate comfort with joy. However, during this special time of year, let us be mindful of the type of comfort we seek and remember that discomfort has the potential to create joy as well.

Consider each square in this diagram:

Top Left: Listening to a song you like or watching a sunset are examples of positive comforts, pleasant enough, and as benign as can be. Bottom Right: Getting disintegrated by a laser or eaten by a Jurassic Park Dino illustrates the negative discomfort category; it sounds awful, and it’s difficult to see the positive side.


Are you with me so far? Now for where the real action is. Bottom Left: How does your stomach feel the morning after binging on ‘comfort’ food or alcohol? The consequences of procrastinating make you comfortable right now, but then what...? I’m sure you can come up with many other examples of negative comforts on your own. In fact, try and think of another one. Top Right: Now for the headline! In the positive discomfort square, we find hard workouts, long study sessions, or practicing a difficult skill. Do any others come to mind?


(Of course, any positive discomfort may taken to a harmful extreme, like over-exercising.) However, the main point is that the right kinds of discomfort may result in greater joy later, whereas the wrong kinds of comfort might have exactly the opposite effect in the long run. Here are a few seasonal 'positive discomfort' exercises:

  • Purposely select the longest line at the checkout aisle.

  • Be polite to someone who is anything but.

  • Savor the delay at the airport.

You might ask, "Who would actually do this?" After reading this article, I hope your answer is: "Me, that's who!!" Wishing you many opportunities for practicing positive discomfort during the holiday season and throughout the New Year! Jonathan Hoffman

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