The architecture of comfort

Saturday, October 14, 2017

In striving for the goals of peace, happiness, and tranquility, I’ve visualized the concept of “comfort architecture,” or if you like, “comfortecture.” Here’s how it works: Think of happiness as a physical living space, with four walls and a roof. Each of those walls represents a particular element - or if you prefer, ingredient - that is necessary for the overall home to function.

The first of those walls is “necessity.” What do you need in life? This means different things for different people, as various individuals place different levels of importance upon different things. That’s totally fine. For some folks, owning furniture is not important. I literally knew someone who didn’t even own a couch! He had a few folding chairs, a small desk for a computer, and he slept on a wooden board, because he had back problems, and he believed this hard surface was better for his spine. He sort of had a bit of a “Zen Buddhist” thing going on, and I think his desire to own as few material possessions as possible was a big part of that. And you know what? That’s totally okay! Again, necessity is different, depending upon the person. Some people don’t want or need a large kitchen or cooking supplies, as they might prefer to grab fast food or go out to eat. Other people don’t consider electronic items (like TVs or computers) very important, while still others totally disregard books and have no need of a space in which to store them. To each their own!

And yet, you must have an idea of the things you do find necessary to live. There are some common denominators here. Electricity, heat, air conditioning, and even Internet access are typically regarded as life essentials. Unless you’re a homesteader or survivalist, those aforementioned utilities can be directly filed under the “necessity” category. For many other people, things like couches, beds, tables, and desks are seen as necessary. For me, it’s all of the above, though I place the first four utilities I’ve mentioned - and a soft bed to sleep in - slightly above the other things. So you’ve erected the first wall, which we’ll call Necessity. Now that you have the things you need, are you totally happy? You might be surprised to find that the answer is a resounding “No.”

Of course, it’s very possible to be happy with just that, but most people aren’t. Everyone strives for more, and I believe this is human nature. Which brings us to the second wall - “desire.” What do you want out of life? What do you crave or long for? Love, companionship, friendship, sex, and money are all common desires, but there are also myriad material wants that people have. An artist might want painting supplies, or drawing supplies, like shading pencils and a sketchbook. A musician might want various instruments, music writing resources, recording equipment, music editing programs, etc. A do-it-yourself home repairman (or woman) might want a large supply of tools and building supplies, in order to be able to construct or fix things in the home. And so on and so forth. So put up that second wall and call it Desire.
Now, what about balance? After all, you’ve got to keep yourself in check. Unlimited and unrestrained desire means spending a lot of money that you probably don’t have. Much in the same way, in terms of interpersonal relationships, being too clingy of a friend or partner, or being too sex-driven, or even being money-hungry, can become very self-destructive. That’s why you need a third wall that revolves around “balance.” This entails compromising with yourself, making smart and well-informed decisions, and not letting what you want override what you need. I’ve listed these “walls” so far in this particular order for a reason. What you need should come first, followed by things you desire, and then, that should be tempered with Balance.

So, if you’ve got those three things going for you, what more could you possibly still require in order to be happy? It’s called “stability,” and it actually doesn’t occur to most people; furthermore, some people never even get it. What does stability represent? Just as with necessity, it means different things to different folks. Basically, though, stability is that element in your life that gives you a sense of normalcy; the feeling of being able to function, be yourself, and not be under stress. It can be boiled down to the statement, “This is the environment, and these are the conditions, that I want to live in. This feels alright!” For some people, that means not being alone, or of always having some comforting or familiar sounds. For obsessive-compulsive people, it has to be much more specific than that, and for autistic people, even moreso. For myself, in order to feel “stable,” I need quiet, solitude, access to woods and/or nature, and a small space into which I can retreat and concentrate on things like reading, writing, listening to music, etc. So put up that fourth and final wall and name it Stability.

Necessity. Desire. Balance. Stability. We’re all finished now, right? Not quite. You’ve got your four walls, but with neither a roof nor a foundation, it’s not really a home, is it? So what might a roof represent? Well, let’s think about it. If you don’t have a roof over your head, you’re not protected from rain and storms, or the cold. Birds and bugs would just fly in and out of your home. The lack of a roof symbolizes a lack of safety. So let’s talk about “security.” I view this as being different from necessity, as total security is never a guarantee in life, nor is it a requirement in order to keep living - though it does help.

If you’ve ever lived in a rough neighborhood, say, with gangs and shootings (I have), then you know it is not really conducive to happiness. Your comfort might be infrequent at best. This also goes for living in an area where there is abject poverty, or which is prone to natural disasters, or where there’s a lot of organized crime occurring. I feel that in order to be totally happy, you have to find yourself an area to live that is not fraught with danger. I’m not suggesting that you sequester yourself in some little out-of-the-way neighborhood or village and cloister yourself from other people and the rest of the world (unless that’s what would make you happy!). Rather, I’m saying that having a feeling of safety plays a very important role in one’s overall satisfaction in life. So take those walls, put a big old roof on it and call it Security.
And finally, we have our foundation, what I consider the bedrock of any joyous and fulfilling life, and I call that “appreciation.” Some might also call this “gratefulness,” but to whom would you be grateful? If someone helped you out, that’s fine, but what I’m discussing here is simply being appreciative of what you have in life. This applies to everything I just mentioned above: having a warm bed to sleep in, or a light to turn on (necessities); having a good friend or partner, or a nice record collection or a SmartTV (desire); having the wisdom and foresight to be fiscally responsible and make good decisions (balance); feeling comfortable or at peace with where you’re living (stability); and not being the victim of violence or some terrible disaster (security). Appreciate all of these things. I believe that if you fail to do that, these things will feel hollow or empty to you. Having an honest appraisal of what you have - and a respect for it - gives everything else meaning. So stand upon that foundation and name it “Appreciation,” and now you have your house.

There’s your comfortecture. Everything in equal amounts, in perfect equilibrium with everything else. Happiness is never an absolute; there’s no assurance that you’ll have it, or that it will be whole. But if you have the opportunity, you should do what it takes to acquire the things that I mentioned, in whatever form they may appear to you. It may take struggle, it may involve getting through problems or pushing through hardships, but I also find that struggle begets wisdom, strength, and - once again - appreciation. In this world we live in, we are all builders, whether metaphorically or literally. People build relationships, they construct plans, they craft ideas. Although we might not know it, we are constantly constructing. The blueprints differ for each of us, but they are drawn and mapped out in our hearts and minds. In the end, we’re all just carpenters, waiting for the right tools to truly put our lives together. I’m trying to design mine the way that I want it, and so should you.

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