Why comfort is a curse
We burst from the womb, wide-eyed, hungry for discovery, thirsty for adventure.
Eyes probing, fingers poking, tongues licking, minds chewing, bubbling through life in constant, exultant motion.
Joyfully disturbed are we, jittering with an insatiable “why,” rapturous with possibility, taking nothing for granted.
But over time, our flames of curiosity are extinguished.
We succumb to adulthood, our zest for life drowned by routine and responsibility, our innocent curiosity suffocated and replaced by vain ambition, the thrill of discovery strangled by apathetic comfort.
Renowned psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi reveals how creative people are cultivated and how they keep the spark alive in his enlightening book Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. He writes:
“Without a burning curiosity, a lively interest, we are unlikely to persevere long enough to make a significant new contribution…Someone who is motivated by the desire to become rich and famous might struggle hard to get ahead but will rarely have enough inducement to work beyond what is necessary, to venture beyond what is already known.”
Misguided ambition is but a confectionary counterfeit of meat-and-potatoes curiosity. It may provide an initial spark of energy, but it quickly burns out and fades. Even when we achieve such ambitions, we’re left empty and unfulfilled.
Childlike curiosity is the everlasting fuel of joyful, creative living. Seek not, therefore, to make a name for external validation, but to make new discoveries for the intrinsic thrill.
One element of Csikszentmihalyi’s research lunged from the page and held me riveted:
“Many creative individuals came from quite poor origins and many from professional or upper-class ones; very few hailed from the great middle class.
“About 30 percent of the parents were farmers, poor immigrants, or blue-collar workers However, they didn’t identify with their lower-class positions and had high aspirations for their children’s academic advancement…
“Only about 10 percent of the families were middle-class. A majority of about 34 percent had fathers who held an intellectual occupation, such as professor, writer, orchestra conductor, or research scientist. The remaining quarter were lawyers, physicians, or wealthy businessmen…
“Clearly it helps to be born in a family where intellectual behavior is practiced, or in a family that values education as an avenue of mobility — but not in a family that is comfortably middle-class.”
Ah. Perpetually creative people are disturbed and curious — either made so by circumstance or natural appetite.
Comfort kills more dreams than failure. Furthermore, “Curiosity will conquer fear even more than bravery will,” as James Stephens said.
Is it any wonder, then, that the Man who promised life eternal and abundant exhorted us to become as little children?
The most critical quest of adulthood is to stay joyfully disturbed and innocently engaged by insatiable curiosity.
To those wallowing in middle-class comfort, lounging in middle-class sofas, watching middle-class sitcoms, I say drop to your knees and plead in the words of Sir Francis Drake:
Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true because we have dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely because we sailed too close to the shore.
Disturb us, Lord, when with the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst for the waters of life…
Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly, to venture on wider seas
Where storms will show your mastery;
Where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars.
We ask You to push back the horizons of our hopes;
And to push into the future in strength, courage, hope, and love.
To contradict Marx, undisturbed comfort is the opiate of the masses. And for numbed, adult souls, the best rehab is childlike curiosity.