The Problem With Too Much Comfort

The Sopranos is my all time favourite show. In Season 1, Episode 8, Tony Soprano’s nephew (in fact cousin) Christopher says, “I don’t know, Tony. It’s like just the fuckin’ regularness of life is too fuckin’ hard for me or something.”

Chris is working on a screenplay about the mafia. He’s been trying to write an arc for his character. He realises his own life has no arc. He is depressed because his life is mundane compared to characters in ‘stories’.

The recurring advice for writing any good story: keep the interesting parts, remove everything else. If you watch a good biopic, you wouldn’t want to know about their boring afternoon visit to the doctor unless it contributed to the screenplay of the movie.

In movies, everything happens for a reason. Chinatown won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. In the movie, each and every scene, every event, every interaction contributes to a cohesive screenplay. Life isn’t like that.

Life isn’t a story. Life has numerous mundane details that don’t contribute to the overall arc. Things happen at random, often without reason. Even though we concoct several reasoning to add a narrative that makes sense to us, there’s often ‘nothing written’ from the start. Logic is an invention of man that is ignored by the universe. God after all is not a screenplay writer.

Without a definitive plot (like that in stories), a clear protagonist, an interesting setup, a serious conflict, a powerful climax, a conclusive resolution, life can feel very regular where nothing meaningful ever happens. Like Chris in The Sopranos, this regularity can be depressing.

But just because it’s just a series of events and there’s no arc, life doesn’t necessarily have to be mundane.

Life is regular when it’s too obvious. The root cause that makes it obvious is: too much comfort. When I’m in Bengaluru, I can get a cab in 2 mins, daily veggies in 10 mins, access to an electrician, plumber, dietician, whatnot in 15 mins. Everything is too damn easy — at the touch of a finger or click of a button.

According to laws of economics, humans want to spend bulk of their time in high-leverage tasks and outsource all the low-impact chores so as to save as much time as possible. Logically this makes sense, but according to psycho-logic, it’s not the best way to live. Why else do you think we spend good money to deliberately choose discomfort, such as going on treks, skydiving, and mountain biking?

Had we been Homo Economicus instead of Homo Sapiens, the adventure sports industry wouldn’t have existed. If you’d think about it, climbing a mountain isn’t the most ‘comfortable’ activity. In fact, we do it precisely because it is uncomfortable.

As much as entrepreneurs and economists believe, efficiency isn’t our primary motive. Sometimes, we don’t just need to be alive, we also need to feel alive. Mountaineering, long distance running, jungle hiking makes us feel alive. What all of them lack is ‘regularness’.

But you don’t have to go on a vacation every now and then beat the regularity of life. I realised this the first time I was in Meerut.

My partner is from Meerut, a city in Uttar Pradesh. When I visited her place for the first time I realised that I rarely looked at my phone or opened my laptop during my stay there. There were just so many things happening throughout the day that I never had a chance to get bored or distracted.

For starters, there are five dogs and four cats — too much of fur to spend time anywhere else. On top of that, it’s a big house so there are a lot of people coming and going at any given time. To add to that, there’s no easy way to order food, hire a carpenter, courier a parcel, or buy groceries. You have to go out, call somebody up, observe them while they do it to make sure they do their job right. Or, do it yourself.

This is highly inefficient. But like I said, econs (short for Homo Economicus) look for efficiency everywhere. We aren’t econs. We are humans. For human beings, a bit of inefficiency that breaks the monotony goes a long way.

But the curse of modernity is that it’s designed for econs. Since things are too easy, there’s lack of variety. In pursuit of too much efficiency, life has become full of regularity.

What we need is a bit of chaos, a slight discomfort — just the right amount, not too much, not too little — that’ll make life a bit more uncertain and hence a bit more interesting.

Fixing the toilet (once in a while) may feel like a waste of time, but it does add a bit of ‘masala’ in life. Your brain gets some variety. It’s uncomfortable yet challenging. At the end of the day, you don’t feel like “I dunno where all my time went.”

Your life may not have an arc, but it does get some richness.

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