Humans have an irrepressible drive to improve our conditions, and our modern world reflects it. Our lives are built around convenience and comfort. Climate-controlled homes programmed by our smartphones, wifi-enabled kitchen appliances, grocery delivery apps, on-demand television, and driver-assisted vehicles guided by digital maps of our entire planet are all meant to reduce stress and give us more time to enjoy our lives.
Our quality of life in America has improved in exponential ways during the 21st century, largely thanks to technology, but there is another side to the story. Staggering rates of depression, mental illness, isolation, and what can only be described as a chasmic disconnect with the natural world plague us now more than ever and are making us less resilient, less healthy, and less happy despite all of our luxuries.
This is the contrast brought to life in “The Comfort Crisis: How to Embrace Discomfort to Reclaim Your Wild, Happy, Healthy Self.” Author Michael Easter explores these opposing realities through extensive research on the subject while artfully weaving his own personal experience as an urbanite looking for a wilder life.
Easter begins by taking a pulse on modern life to identify some of our most persistent problems while simultaneously looking inward at his own life to realize a desire for more challenge and meaning. As he tracks down experts from across the world to dive into modern studies on the prevalence and causes of maladies like obesity, chronic disease, and depression, he also tackles historical research to search for clues into how our ancestors’ less-convenient and less-comfortable lives impacted their physical and mental health.
The strength of the book comes in bringing the research and author’s personal experience together into one clear picture, pulling no punches as Easter issues a convincing and inspiring argument: modern life is making us soft and sad.
“Most people today rarely step outside their comfort zones,” Easter writes. “We are living progressively sheltered, sterile, temperature-controlled, overfed, underchallenged, safety-netted lives and it’s limiting the degree to which we experience our ‘one wild and precious life,’ as poet Mary Oliver put it. But a radical new body of evidence shows that people are at their best — physically harder, mentally tougher, and spiritually sounder — after experiencing the same discomforts that our early ancestors were exposed to every day.”
Throughout the book, the author walks us through his training and experience on a backcountry caribou hunt in Alaska, bringing the book’s treatise to life in gritty detail. From buying his first pair of expedition boots to his training regime and eventual sojourn into the Alaskan wilderness, Easter takes the reader on a journey of discovery, hardship, and the eventual payoff of a life-changing hunt that awakens the author’s new sense of self.
Easter’s dedication to going all-in on what the experience requires of him and his honesty and humor in relaying the good, bad, and ugly brings a refreshing authenticity to the book. He also shows that this kind of experience is available to anyone who is willing to step outside of their comfort zone to reclaim their own wildness, or what he describes as “part rewilding and part rewiring.”
Easter is by no means saying we should burn our belongings and retreat into the wilderness forever. His research and personal experience are presented with a clear-eyed pragmatism that gives the book’s overall argument credibility, but he does not waiver from what he believes are serious concerns for modern man’s ability to deal with our many challenges. He makes a convincing argument that we must jolt ourselves from our comfort zones and immerse ourselves in the natural world as much as possible in order to bring balance to our overstimulated lives and find the solace, purpose, and resiliency necessary for true mental and physical wellness.