top of page

The Comfort Crisis:

Embrace Discomfort To Reclaim Your Wild, Happy, Healthy Self

by Michael Easter

After finishing this book in September of 2023, I wrote,


"Both autobiographical and scientific, I kept looked forward to reading each new chapter of this book. I've already instituted some new practices, for example rucking, from the knowledge and inspiration this book gave me."


My clippings below collapse a 284-page book into eleven pages, measured by using 12-point type in Microsoft Word.

See all my book recommendations.  

Here are the selections I made:

And it’s limiting the degree to which we experience our “one wild and precious life,” as poet Mary Oliver put it.


About 2.5 million years ago, our ancestor Homo habilis evolved out of the smartest apelike animals of the time.


Then, 1.8 million years ago, came Homo erectus.


Next, about 700,000 years ago, came Homo heidelbergensis and then Homo neanderthalensis.


Our species, called Homo sapiens, has been walking this earth for 200,000 to 300,000 years, depending on which anthropologist you ask.


The modern comforts and conveniences that now most influence our daily experience—cars, computers, television, climate control, smartphones, ultraprocessed food, and more—have been used by our species for about 100 years or less. That’s around 0.03 percent of the time we’ve walked the earth. Include all the Homos—habilis, erectus, heidelbergensis, neanderthalensis, and us—and open the time scale to 2.5 million years and the figure drops to 0.004 percent. Constant comfort is a radically new thing for us humans. Over these 2.5 million years, our ancestors’ lives were intimately intertwined with discomfort. These people were constantly exposed to the elements. It was either too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry, too windy, or too snowy out. The only escape from the weather was a rudimentary


It wasn’t until the 1920s, when radio was broadcast to the masses, that there was a full-time, brainless escape from boredom.


Then came Big TV in the 1950s. Finally, on June 29, 2007, boredom was pronounced dead, thanks to the iPhone.


He called this “prevalence-induced concept change.” Essentially “problem creep.” It explains that as we experience fewer problems, we don’t become more satisfied. We just lower our threshold for what we consider a problem. We end up with the same number of troubles. Except our new problems are progressively more hollow.


This creep phenomenon applies directly to how we now relate to comfort, said Levari. Call it comfort creep. When a new comfort is introduced, we adapt to it and our old comforts become unacceptable. Today’s comfort is tomorrow’s discomfort. This leads to a new level of what’s considered comfortable.


The human mind is programmed to overestimate the consequences of something like screwing up a PowerPoint, because past social failures often got us kicked out of the tribe, after which we’d usually die at the hands of nature, according to those Michigan scientists.


Scientists at New York University identify 1990 as the beginning of helicopter parenting. The researchers say that’s when many parents stopped allowing their children to go outside unsupervised until they were as old as 16, due to unfounded, media-driven fears of kidnapping.


Some states have even had to pass “free-range parenting” laws after some parents were being charged with neglect for letting their kids go outside alone.


At the signing of the Declaration of Independence only 5 percent of us were urbanites. By 1876, that number was still just 25 percent. But roughly 100 years ago we tipped to favor city living. Today, 84 percent of Americans live in cities and more are moving in. It’s an odd trend.


Studies show that even dirt-poor people who live in rural China report being happier than infinitely wealthier Chinese city-dwellers.


The notion that cities depress us is backed by numbers. People who live in cities are 21 percent more likely to suffer from anxiety and 39 percent more likely to suffer from depression than people who live in rural areas.


A group of roughly 150 people or fewer seems to be an ideal community. It even has a name, Dunbar’s number, after British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, who discovered it. As we evolved, groups of fewer than 150 people gave us enough resources to hunt, raise kids, share, and thrive.


The human population density of the world when we lived in hunter-gatherer communities was about 1 person for every 6 square miles. Compare that to Manhattan, which jams about 417,000 people into the same 6-square-mile space. Even midsize cities like Providence, Rhode Island, and Portland, Oregon, have 58,000 and 26,000 people per 6 square miles, respectively.


The physical and mental health effects of this epidemic are substantial. Scientists at Brigham Young University found that it doesn’t matter how old you are or how much money you have, being lonely increases your risk of dying in the next 7 years by 26 percent. Overall, it can shorten life by 15 years.


The Buddha, Lao-Tzu, Moses, Milton, Emerson, and many more have spoken highly of the benefits of solitude.


Solitude is something people generally suck at. In a study conducted by scientists at the University of Virginia, a quarter of women and two-thirds of men chose to shock themselves rather than be alone with their thoughts.


Our general discomfort with solitude may be due to how society frames it. Consider how we discipline children: time-out. Or how we punish prisoners: solitary confinement. This tradition, Bowker thinks, may have cued us to believe that normalcy is found through others and that solitude is punishment.


Research backs solitude’s healthy properties. It’s been shown to improve productivity, creativity, empathy, and happiness, and decrease self-consciousness.


“The rules for surviving in the wild are shelter first, water second, food last,” says Donnie.


“Tolstoy had this great quote in Anna Karenina that says boredom is a ‘desire for desires,’ ” said Danckert. “So boredom is a motivational state.”


Unfocused mode occurs when we’re not paying attention. It’s inward mind-wandering, a rest state that restores and rebuilds the resources needed to work better and more efficiently in the focused state. Time in unfocused mode is critical to get shit done, tap into creativity, process complicated information, and more. The 11 hours and 6 minutes of attention we’re handing over to digital media isn’t free. It’s all spent in focused mode. Think of this focused state like lifting a weight, and the unfocused state like resting.


Our collective lack of boredom may be causing us to reach near-crisis levels of mental fatigue.


“I like the simple definition of addiction being ‘continued use despite adverse consequences,’ ” said Brewer.


For Brewer, it’s no shock that many people are addicted to “the slot machines in our pockets,” as he called them. Evolution says we should be.


Sorkin’s takeaway is that we should learn to deal with boredom, and then discover ways to overcome it that are more productive and creative than watching a YouTube video or scrolling through Instagram.


Torrance testing, in fact, smokes IQ testing. A recent study of the kids in Torrance’s study found that creativity was a threefold better predictor of much of the students’ accomplishments compared to their IQ scores.


And now we’ve killed off one of the main drivers of creativity: mind-wandering. The result? A researcher at the University of William and Mary analyzed 300,000 Torrance Test scores since the 1950s. She found that the creativity scores began to nosedive in 1990, leading her to conclude that we’re now facing a “creativity crisis.”


Steve Jobs once said, “I’m a big believer in boredom….All the [technology] stuff is wonderful, but having nothing to do can be wonderful, too.”


Maybe when I get home, instead of thinking the oft-repeated “less phone,” it might be more productive to think “more boredom.”


Other research shows antianxiety medication use rises a relative 28 percent for every 10-decibel increase a neighborhood experiences, and people who live near loud roads are 25 percent more likely to be depressed.


Before this Alaska trip, I don’t think I’d actually ever experienced a problem with hunger. Food’s always been available and I usually ate it because it was time for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Or because I was stressed or bored. Or because it was just…there. The Japanese call this kuchisabishii, which literally means “lonely mouth” and describes our constant mindless eating. I couldn’t recall the last time I experienced stomach-deep hunger lasting more than a day.


It’s more effective to modify the behaviors and thought patterns that are keeping you from progressing,” said Kashey. “Because your progress is only as good as your most obvious limiter, right?”


“I would always snack because I thought I was starving all the time. Kashey taught me that hunger can be deceptive. I learned I often just had a psychological need to eat. He taught me that it’s okay to be hungry. My response was ‘WHAT???’ He told me to ‘embrace the suck.’ Now, yeah, I’m hungry sometimes. It is what it is. I’m OK with being uncomfortable now. I remind myself that I’m safe, have food, and will eat when it’s time to eat.” She’s down about 150 pounds and still losing. “I swim, lift weights, hike, walk miles at a time, and am off my medications,” said Bunge.


Ultraprocessed foods are like cheap, over-the-counter, omnipresent Xanax. But, as with pills, once the effect wears off, the stress is still there. So a person must then take another pill or eat more junk. Side effects? Weight gain, heart disease, stroke, cancer, high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, type-2 diabetes, fatigue, depression, osteoarthritis, pain, early death, etc.


Kashey indeed has no food ideology. “I don’t care what people eat,” he said. “Just so long as they keep track of it.” Consistently leveraging the Hawthorne effect.


The least filling food was croissants, while the most filling was plain white potatoes. The USDA reports that a small croissant and a medium potato both have about 170 calories. This study suggests you’d have to eat about seven croissants, 1,190 calories, to experience the same fullness you’d get from a single potato. The key quality that made a food filling: how heavy its 240-calorie serving size was.


“So, for example, at one end of the spectrum there’s something like iceberg lettuce. There are sixty calories in a pound of iceberg lettuce. At the extreme opposite end of the spectrum there are oils, like olive oil or canola oil. A pound of oil has four thousand calories,” Kashey explained.


Every other food we eat lies between these two foods. Junk food such as chips, candy bars, desserts, and even energy bars, for example, have about 2,000 calories per pound. Processed grains like breads and crackers have about 1,500, while unprocessed grains like cooked rice and oats have 500. Tubers, fruits, and vegetables have about 400, 300, and 120, respectively.


“The number they tabulated was food that has about five hundred sixty-seven calories per pound. The exactitude of the number is meaningless. But the practical takeaway is important: A person should mostly be eating unprocessed whole grains*7 and tubers, fruits and vegetables, and lowish-fat animal protein.” These foods lead us to the sweet spot where we find a healthy weight and keep meal satisfaction high, he said. “An average plate could be a quarter animal protein, a quarter whole grains or tubers, and half vegetables or fruit.


These are people living somewhere between hunter-gatherers and subsistence farmers. Lindeberg wrote, “Cultivated tubers (mainly yam, sweet potato and taro) are staples, supplemented by fruits, leaves, [coconuts], fish, maize, tapioca and beans.” All less calorically dense foods, save for the occasional coconut. About 70 percent of their calories come from carbohydrates—so you could say the Kitavans have a high-carb diet—and they eat around 2,200 calories a day, despite having plenty of food in storage. Critically, Lindeberg reported, the Kitavans eat no processed, higher-density foods. He found no overweight Kitavans and zero indications of heart disease or evidence that any Kitavan had ever had a heart attack or stroke. The majority of people he tested were over 50 years old. A handful even reached past 90—quite a feat without modern medicine. 


The Tsimane people, a tribe in Bolivia, eat rice, plantains, tubers, and corn; meat and fish that they themselves hunt and pull from streams; fruit; and the occasional wild nuts. They register the healthiest hearts ever recorded, according to a global team of scientists.


A pound of French fries, for example, has an energy density of more than 1,500, compared to just 400 for a pound of plain baked potatoes.


Kashey explained his thoughts on obesity genes like this: “Whether or not you have some obesity gene, you treat the condition in the exact same way you would if you didn’t have that gene. You eat better and move more. So why are we even talking about this?” he said. “Is it perhaps harder for some people to lose weight than others? Maybe. Will those people have to work harder? Maybe. But life isn’t fair, and by harping on genes, people just give themselves an excuse to fail.”


The body’s “taking out the trash” process is officially called autophagy, which translates from ancient Greek as “self-devouring.”


But our 15-hour daily eating windows disrupt the process, said Panda. They rob our bodies of the 12 to 16 hours we need to fully metabolize food and lapse into autophagy mode.


“If you eat…before bed, you’re not going to have any autophagy. That means you’re not going to take out the trash, so the cells begin to accumulate more and more debris.”


“During [extended time without food], the body doesn’t shut down, it ramps up,” Dr. Jason Fung, a nephrologist and author of The Obesity Code, told me. “Think about a hungry wolf versus a lion who just ate. Which one is more focused? The hungry wolf.”


It allows the body to go 12 to 16 hours without a calorie, which goes “a long way toward preventing diseases, increasing alertness and energy,” said Panda.


Harvard Medical School surgery professor and recipient of a MacArthur “Genius” grant Dr. Atul Gawande notes that 25 percent of all Medicare spending is for the 5 percent of patients in their final year of life. Most of that money goes to treatments that are of little lifesaving benefit and often just put the person through more unnecessary suffering.


Existential philosopher Martin Heidegger said, “If I take death into my life, acknowledge it, and face it squarely, I will free myself from the anxiety of death and the pettiness of life—and only then will I be free to become myself.”


“Welcome,” said the khenpo, his voice a heavily accented butter. I bowed and sat. “You want to talk about death?”


“Most Americans are unaware of how good you have it, and so, many of you are miserable and chasing the wrong things,” he said.


“You act like life is fulfilling a checklist. ‘I need to get a good wife or husband, then I get a good car, then I get a good house, then I get a promotion, then I get a better car and a better house and I make a name for myself and then…’ ” He rattled off more accomplishments that fulfill the American Dream. “But this plan will never materialize perfectly. And even if it does, then what? You don’t settle, you add more items to the checklist. It is the nature of desire to get one thing and immediately want the next thing, and this cycle of accomplishment and acquisitions won’t necessarily make you happy—if you have ten pairs of shoes you want eleven pairs.”


“You must think of mitakpa three times each day. Once in the morning, once in the afternoon, and once in the evening. You must be curious about your death. You must understand that you don’t know how you will die or where you will die. Just that you will die. And that death can come at any time,” he said.


Disney movies have led people to believe that nature is this harmonious place. It’s not. Nature can be brutal.” Philosophers call this flawed-but-common thinking the “appeal to nature” fallacy. It’s the belief, argument, or rhetorical tactic that proposes that anything “natural” is good, harmonious, and morally correct.


President Teddy Roosevelt put it this way: “Death by violence, death by cold, death by starvation—these are the normal endings of the stately and beautiful creatures of the wilderness. The sentimentalists who prattle about the peaceful life of nature do not realize its utter mercilessness;…life is hard and cruel for all the lower creatures, and for man also in what the sentimentalists call a ‘state of nature.’ ” The state humans lived in for all but the most recent fragment of time.


The second great change in human fitness began around 1850. It marked the start of the Industrial Revolution, and today just 13.7 percent of jobs require the same heavy work as our past days of farming.


Roughly three-quarters of jobs are now sedentary, and we’re sitting more every year. Over the last decade, the average American added another hour of daily sitting. Adults now sit for six and a half hours, while kids sit more than eight (the removal of recess hasn’t helped, either).


OUR ANCESTORS STARTED walking on two feet, like we do, about 4.4 million years ago.


It costs a chimp 75 percent more energy to walk the same distance as a human. Which is why those animals mostly cover ground on four limbs and “knuckle walk,” as anthropologists call it.


Humans, on the other hand, can carry up to 15 percent of our body weight—roughly 30 pounds for an average male—and we still use less energy than other primates, even when they’re not carrying anything.


But in 2004 he released a study that shook the foundations of both the anthropology and exercise communities. Lieberman found that, no, we can’t go fast. But we can go far—especially in hot weather. The freaks among us can sustain speeds as high as 13 miles an hour for distances over 25 miles. Think: professional marathoners. But even hobbyist runners every weekend finish marathons in three to four hours, averaging about 9 to 6.5 miles an hour.


On a hot day a relatively fit human will beat every other mammal in a distance race—lions, tigers, bears, dogs, etc.*1 As Lieberman explained in


Male chimpanzees, for example, are far smaller yet twice as strong as even the most buff humans. Athletically pathetic, indeed.


And natural selection over time seems to have picked humans who were the best, most efficient carriers, found a study in the Journal of Anatomy. Carrying, the research suggests, is a driving force behind why we became apex predators.


Expanding fitness just a bit—the equivalent of a person improving their max running speed from five to six miles an hour—reduces the risk of heart disease by 30 percent, according to the American Heart Association. Next is cancer. It kills 22.8 percent of us. The most fit people face a 45 percent lower risk of dying from the disease, according to a study in the Annals of Oncology. Then we have accidents. They take 6.8 percent of us. If a person is in a serious car accident, being in shape drops their chances of dying by 80 percent, according to a study in the Emergency Medical Journal. If the docs have to operate—regardless of whether it’s an emergency or a planned surgery—fitter people also face fewer surgical complications and recover faster than unfit people, say scientists in Brazil.


Lung disease gets 5.3 percent of us. Fitter people have lungs that are 2.8 times less at risk of disease, say scientists at Northwestern University. The recent pandemic Covid-19 attacked the lungs and could cause pneumonia and, in turn, death. A study in Annals of Epidemiology found that fitter people face a smaller risk of developing pneumonia compared to the unfit. And the CDC found that people infected with Covid-19 who also suffered from preventable lifestyle diseases driven by a lack of fitness were six times more likely to be hospitalized.


Research suggests that smoking takes 10 years off a person’s life, while the combined effects of being unfit may take as many as 23.


Scientists at the University of Pittsburgh, for example, investigated what activities most often injure Special Forces soldiers. Running was the top offender. It caused six times more injuries than rucking.


“The weight in the ruck is also a great equalizer, which also makes it more social,” McCarthy said. “I ruck with my mom all the time. She takes ten pounds. I take fifty. We go the same speed but get the same effect. Outdoor physical activity with people—that’s foundational.


Populations in Asia and the Middle East who rest and do many activities in the squatting position, for example, see little to no hip and lower-back issues.


His work shows that people who sit all day then attack the gym have higher rates of back dysfunction compared to couch potatoes.


Studies around an emerging theory called the hygiene hypothesis have strongly linked the rise in these diseases and others to our supersanitized lives. Even mood, metabolism, and immunity are affected.


Except not all germs or microorganisms are bad. The vast, vast majority are benign and many are beneficial.


She said our sanitary lives, on the other hand, factor into our massive rates of chronic disease. “We sterilize everything. And here we are, more sick, fragile, and depleted,” she said. “We’ve reduced the effectiveness of our immune system in determining what’s actually harmful to us and what’s not,” she said. That can lead our systems to go “haywire.”


Food allergies disproportionately affect people in the most sanitary nations.


Unfortunately, there’s no pill that can alter our gut microbiomes to be more Hadza-like. “Because they take in microbes from food they pull from the dirt, as well as air and land,” said Schnorr. “You really need continuous exposure to outside microbes.” University of Chicago microbiome scientists have in fact declared that “dirt is good.” The more time a person spends outside getting down and dirty in it, the better.


But a study of the Hadza, for example, found that they eat more than 600 foods, 70 percent of them unprocessed, fiber-filled plants.


In the absence of an outbreak like Covid-19, where even Schnorr had no choice but to be belligerent with the Purell, she generally doesn’t disinfect her home or hands. “I abhor sanitizer,” she said. “And, trust me, you’re going to survive if you don’t shower. In fact, it can be beneficial.”


For example, we are much better able to control our ambient temperature,” wrote the scientists. “[We] lack exposure to varied ambient temperature [because we] cool and heat our dwellings for maximal comfort while minimizing our body energy expenditure necessary to control body temperature.”


We need a week or two of exposure to reach the point where we feel comfortable in the cold and begin optimizing our cold furnaces.


Then we can stop once we’re living in 64 degrees.


Another study conducted by the NIH found that people who slept in rooms in the mid-60s saw a 10 percent increase in their metabolic activity.


They also saw improvements in health markers like bl...


The World Health Organization recently discovered that Icelandic men are the longest living on Earth. Guys from Iceland rack up roughly 81.2 years.


That’s 13.2 more years than the global average and 5.2 more years than men in the United States.


I’d experienced firsthand the phenomenon first theorized by William James and proven by recent studies, which shows that new events decelerate our perception of time.


And my wife was right: I could see that my modern “problems” weren’t real problems, so I was harder to rattle. Chasing that which makes humans harder to kill was, it seemed, making it easier for me to live.

bottom of page