"The only thing currently missing from my life is the absence of panics, from, say, finding a gigantic snake in my library, or watching the economist Myron Scholes, armed to the teeth, walk into my bedroom in the middle of the night. I lack what the biologist Robert Sapolsky calls the beneficial aspect of acute stress, compared to the deleterious one of dull stress --another barbell in which no stress plus a little bit of extreme stress is vastly better than a little bit of stress (like mortgage worries) all the time." ~ Nassim Taleb, "Why I Walk" (via Robb Wolf)
This quote articulates the basis of my running half-joking-half-serious argument that many modern mental health issues could be resolved by the occasional run-in with a large predatory animal (predators other than our fellow humans that is: going to a singles bar doesn't count).
It's a matter of perspective really. Our giant complex brains evolved to operate in an environment of ever-changing stimuli and stressors: hunger, extremes of temperature, pain, pleasure, panic, satiation, security, etc. Now, for good and for bad, these beautiful brains have also allowed us to create environments that insulate us from many of these "negative" stimuli.
In the middle of a nasty (typical) Northern winter, we wake up in a warm bed in a secure house. We take hot showers. We grab fresh food from our refrigerators and eat breakfast whenever we wish, mostly in the absence of hunger. We put on warm coats to climb into our cars parked in heated garages attached to our houses. We drive to work and park in indoor parking lots, taking elevators to our offices. We drive to the gym to exercise on machines designed to provide a controlled, consistent "workout". We drive home, eat dinner, watch TV and climb back into our beds.
Unfortunately, by being smart enough to free ourselves from experiencing un-comforts, we've also lost much of our perspective. How can you experience being well-fed if you've never been truly hungry? How can you really appreciate the warmth of summer if you never went outside during the dead of winter?
We've also traded the occasional major stressor for constant minor ones: the car payment, the mortgage payment, extracurricular sports and classes for the kids, bickering with the neighbours about parking spots, the price of gas, long lines at the grocery store, etc. We obsess and nitpick and grumble constantly. Very few of us ever seem to experience contentment.
I'm definitely not going to argue that life prior to the development of modern comforts was a beautiful Utopian Eden. Hell, I go tent camping regularly partly just to remind myself that I pay a mortgage so I can have hot showers and no bugs in my bed in the morning. And that's the point really, if we occasionally force ourselves to experience some discomfort and variability, we tend to appreciate the absence of discomfort and the soothing presence of consistency a bit more.
At least that's the philosophy I'm trying to embrace as I attempt to convince myself that I should get off my butt and go outside for a run.
However, after being up all night with a screaming teething baby (for the third night in a row), perhaps I've already filled my un-comfort quota for this week. As sweet and mellow as my kid normally is, this recent spate of teething has turned her into a pretty good stunt double for a sabre-toothed tiger. I don't think I'll have any issues appreciating the next solid two hour chunk of sleep I get. Perspective really is everything it seems.