Q: Is comfort found the same way by everyone?
A: At first, the comfort most people reach for is too much of blank – you fill in the blank. Too much alcohol, food, sleep, shopping, sex, TV, computer gaming; you name it, we do it.
While it’s normal and human for us to revert to old habits or the quickest comfort at hand, we start to notice something interesting as we evolve in our personhood. We start to ask ourselves, if these “comforts” come with repercussions, are they really comforts?
That’s when we start seeking strategies for healthier, more enduring ways to feel better. And then we do feel better! Then these new strategies, that actually have a better payoff, start to become part of our lifestyle . . . as does feeling better.
Q: Many people seek comfort by eating junk food or going on shopping sprees, yet you say this not comforting behavior. Why?
A: You might want to pet a big, soft puppy dog, but what if, afterwards, it turned around and bit you? A truly comforting behavior does not turn around and bite you. To qualify as real, a comfort not only soothes you, it also leaves you better than it found you. Not worse. We call that a “toxic” comfort.
That said, moderation can be a huge factor is determining if a comfort is toxic or not. We love to go wine tasting; we don’t like to get drunk. We love to order dessert, but we usually take it "to go" rather than stuff it down on a full stomach if that would make us feel sick.
There’s room in this life for all good things. The question becomes are these pleasures ultimately helping or hurting?
Q: You have struggled with weight your whole life and your co-author has struggled with several bouts of cancer. Did these struggles encourage you to find ways to comfort yourself?
A: (Michael) I became extremely aware of the fragility of life and of its temporal nature. So one of the behaviors I adopted when I was ill was that I forgave everything about everybody I loved and it was an enormous comfort and cleansing.
I was in so much pain with the stress that I realized what a comfort and luxury it was to live in a body without pain, which made me more appreciative of small pleasures.
I started adopting some of the behaviors we talk about in the book: taking a bath would help me feel less pain, as would a moment in a ray of sun. I found comfort in a healer’s hands touching me.
And I learned to surrender to my body and its processes and to listen to it more intensely; it gave me an acuity to my body, almost like a musician with his instrument. To this day, I can still tell when there’s an off note in my being.
A: (Patricia) With my weight issue, it only took a few trips to a bakery for what I thought of as comfort eating to understand that I didn’t like suffering of any kind – and living in regret is a form of suffering. The brief pleasure of falling face first into a bag of pastries was not worth the long lasting despair that comes with feeling out of control and full of self-`loathing.
I didn’t know how to have the healthiest possible body at the time, so I concentrated on my spirit and soul. I did have good basic instincts for balance (I say my gift is being a “Reasonable Hedonist!”).
As a result, I tried to fill my life with the comforts of loving relationships, personal growth, productive hobbies and long hot bubble baths. Oh, and, of course, chocolate – within reason.
Q: Your book deals with comforting all facets of a person--spirit, body, and soul. Is it necessary to take care of all three? Can someone be comforted if one of these areas is off-balance?
A: In understanding the complexity of our species, we have to eventually stop stubbornly insisting we want everything to be simple. It’s not and we’re not!
On the short term, of course we can feel comforted by soothing one area. However, comforting one aspect of our humanity is like only taking care of one tier of a three tier structure; it can work for a while, but if we don’t maintain all three tiers, the wear and tear will begin, and eventually the whole house will crumble.
We have a brain, called spirit; we have an earthsuit, called body; we have an innate identity and heart, called soul. All three require care and comfort. Embracing this concept gives you a strong, well braced house.
Q: Why do you think it's so hard for people to feel comfort and peace in this day and age?
A: Two reasons. One, we have never lived in a more pressured existence, despite all our abundance. The world is much faster now than a century ago; technology has linked us together with a speed the world has never known. It’s easy to get caught up in life’s jet stream without realizing the toll it takes on our spirits, bodies and souls.
Secondly, when it comes to seeking comfort, temptations abound! The siren’s call to “toxic” short-lived comfort is loud and alluring and can drown out our own good instincts for comfort that is real and meaningful.
We’re more “instant” oriented, too, and don’t have any patience for problem solving discomfort and pain. We want what we want when we want it – and that’s now. So just give me a pill or a drink or the night off and let me get on with it and power through.
Sometimes we have to break down to realize that approach doesn’t go deep enough or long enough.
Q: Is it more difficult to comfort one’s self or to comfort others?
A: The sad truth is that people are often kinder to strangers than they are to themselves. And while many people can accept comfort from others, they deny permission to give it to themselves.
That inner critic, the voice that says “I shouldn’t feel this way...” is relentless unless interrupted and retrained. The feeling of guilt for self-comforting goes away if the person can allow for their human need and then choose ways to comfort themselves that are genuinely restorative.
When they see that they function better at their work, have more to give to their loved ones and feel more gusto for their life in general – which is the effect of healthy self-nurturing – they can overcome their guilt response.
Q: Is a positive attitude necessary to find comfort?
A: Being receptive to the concept that real self-comforting is healthy is what’s necessary. People with positive attitudes tend to be naturally receptive. (As we say in the book, “Seekers are Finders.”) However, they may need reminding about what works, since we are all the least resourceful when we are the most stressed.
It’s the person with the negative attitude or beaten down spirit that may be the least receptive, and thus need the most help discovering what will really comfort them.
Often, they are not driven to the healthier methods until they hit bottom with all the toxic versions. If they have even a shred of a desire to be happy, this can actually work out because there’s nothing like hitting bottom to increase receptivity to new ideas.
Q: Your book contains beautiful artwork by Dean Andrews, an award-winning art director. How does her art work contribute to the book's theme of comfort?
A: At first, we were leaning toward using art and graphics that were playful and full of variety, but it really resonated with us that a book about comfort should be a comfort to look at. We felt a huge sigh of relief when we saw our words positioned over Dean’s Strata series of art.
We also recognized that too much variety may be interesting, but also jarring. Dean’s pieces were different and yet soothingly within her sky theme. We even liked that the cover could be seen as sky or ocean, since both are vast and calming to contemplate. We liked this freedom of interpretation her art gives the individual.
Also, we are so excited about Dean’s work that giving her art a real presence in the book increased what the book has to offer. That’s why we did the unusual and showed all the Strata paintings alone on a two-page spread in the back, as well as have Dean write her own Artist’s Statement about its creation.
And let’s not forget Dean also designed the book – which means her creative expertise is on every page, with a million decisions of font, spacing, and visual context. We worked with her very collaboratively, which, by the way, was a lot of fun!
Q: Your book shares the comfort strategies of many different, everyday people. Why did you choose to include these instead of focusing solely on advice from the "experts"?
A: We wanted to create an interesting mix of helpful information in a format that was entertaining. In other words, we wanted to create a book we ourselves would want to read – and we have short attention spans!
The survey not only added to the variety we wanted to offer, it was an irresistible piece of reality. Personally, we love to read survey answers to anything, because a cross section of what real people think is always fascinating and pertinent.
We loved that other people have ideas to contribute to this concept besides us. And we didn’t just want their thoughts, we wanted their personalities, so we only accepted people’s answers by email so we could use their own words and format.
It’s interesting to see the differences or similarities in the responses of a 24-year-old male and a 60-year-old male; a 14-year-old girl and a 40-year-old woman; all the males and all the females.
We were very impressed with how much thought people gave the responses. We thought we’d get a lot of “Sports with pizza and beer,” “Chocolate and shopping” answers but we didn’t. People’s answers revealed this to be a subject that they take seriously and respond to creatively – which is heartening, because our need for comforting affects us so deeply.
Q: Does our society frown upon people who seek ways to comfort themselves? Is it a sign of weakness?
A: (Michael) There’s a difference between comforts and indulgences. When you work a 60 hour week so you can pay for your new $40,000 car or some beautiful jewelry, which we are all sometimes driven to do, it creates an imbalance.
People can frown on the kind of comforts we are suggesting because it’s not about running around upscaling your life. On the other hand, as our survey revealed, people realize eventually that the quality of their life is determined much more by the pursuit of their inner peace – which cannot be attained through indulgences alone.
(I’m not saying indulgences are bad. They can be a true comfort if they don’t run your life. I buy an expensive suede jacket every couple of years!)
A: (Patricia) We live in the most enlightened of all eras, in a world that encourages communication, celebrates problem solving and respects the right of an individual to seek the best life possible. (Of course, as Michael will tell you, I’m a raving optimist.)
But I think our society has come farther along than to think anti-stress concepts are silly or indulgent or that success is only measured by visible excess.
Stress is the great equalizer – and I see a society that approves of strategies that will help people manage their stressful lives more successfully, that is, with more contentment and joy.