The Upside of a Little Discomfort

I have the good fortune of living in a climate that requires little of our home’s air conditioner. I can typically count on one hand the number of times each summer we have to turn it on. I am grateful for this not because it saves us money on our energy bill, but rather I hate closing the windows!
In years past, when the humidity was such that everything felt wet and sticky, I would wait until the very last moment to turn it on – much to my family’s dismay. (Just ask my kids)

This week has been one of those when an argument could be made for buttoning up the house and bringing on the cool air. I will admit that I did do just that a few times in the last 10 days but quickly welcomed back in the fresh air as soon as I felt my family and the dogs wouldn’t complain too much.

I have mused over the years about my aversion to AC and believe I was provided an answer the other day. Early one morning, as I was laying in bed listening to the gentle patter of rain on our house, a line from my favorite movie, “Field of Dreams” came to me – “Is this heaven?”  (As you’ll recall, Kevin Costner’s character, Ray Kinsella, responded “No, this is Iowa”) The sound was so soothing in its rhythm, and brought me a sense of extreme gratitude for having the opportunity to just enjoy it. The sounds of nature and the experience of fresh air are high on my list of “What is great about being alive!”. I was still aware of the heaviness of the air and how the sheets seemed to stick to my skin. I suppose that could be viewed as a bother, but the pay off for ‘tolerating it’ was so much greater than the mild discomfort, I wouldn’t for a minute have considered closing the windows and turning on the air. It was worth it to me to be uncomfortable in order to experience the sounds and smells that were available to me with open windows.
This made me think about the whole idea of how we decide what we’ll tolerate in order to enjoy something else. I think to some degree it has to do with our past experiences of unease or pain and how that shapes our perspective of what is really a bother at all. Full disclosure – growing up, our family didn’t have air conditioning so I had no sense of the possibility of being more comfortable as I lay in bed at night – next to my sister, with the windows in our room wide open, and the fan going in the hallway – learning every swear word I ever knew by listening to the next door neighbor scream at her kids.  It was quite an education and I wouldn’t have traded that for anything!  So maybe there is also that connection to the upside of enduring something that isn’t exactly ideal in order to experience something we value. Consider things in your own life that you ‘gut your way through’.  What’s the reward for having done that?  Why do you do it?  How does it connect with what you value in your life?
I have to admit that for me, there is also another reason why I push back against living every moment of each day in a – metaphorically speaking – “climate controlled environment”.  Not only do you miss what’s happening outside, but I think it’s dangerous to be in a continuous search for the perfect ‘anything’.  “Hmmm, is 70 degrees the right setting?”  “Am I as comfortable as I could possibly be?”  Obviously, we can reflect on this in other aspects of our life – “Rich enough?”, “Thin enough?”, “Smart enough”… you get the picture.  The anxiety and stress associated with perfection become such a distraction that it limits our ability to experience the world and the people in it fully.
“Good enough” is a relief, not only to you but to those you care about.  Don’t forbode the joy available to you this week, and next and next, by focusing more on the imperfections and discomforts.  Once you start to let go of the pursuit of ‘the comfortable’, the wonderful shows up at your door.

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