Comfort traps

On being careful what I wish for

A comfort trap is a situation which seems to promise me ease and happiness but in practice degrades both, because it makes me lazy or saps my capabilities from under-utilisation. Comfort traps are local optima in the hedonism landscape where short-sighted pursuit of good vibes makes for an overall increase in bad vibes. I do not have a profound theory here; I’ve simply observed the phenomenon enough that I need a name for it

I do not know if there is an established term for this in the psychological literature; presumably there is. I am borrowing Mayo Oshin’s term from The Comfort Trap: Why the Pursuit of an Easier Life Creates a Harder One (And What to Do Instead).

Clearly what is a comfort trap depends upon the person. I have a proven poor track record in deducing such things in advance. The entries on the list each need empirical validation for a given interval.

Note also, I’m not arguing that that comfort is bad, rather noting the phenomenon of a systematic bias towards seeking comfort that turns out to be cold.

  • IMO, cars are a comfort trap, which is why I prefer bikes
  • Streaming service subscriptions (e.g. Netflix) are a comfort trap for me. They lead me to excessive binging of TV that I am not glad to have watched afterwards. I prefer pay-per-view services, which force me to be more selective about what I watch.
  • Nuclear family households are a comfort trap for me. Living with my partner makes it easier for me take them for granted, and spend less time relishing the specialness of their presence. Living without others around puts up barriers that I do not need between myself and easy access to friends in busy times. That is why I am involved up cohousing: not because I think it is a perfect utopian solution, but because I think it offers a healthy degree of imperfection and friction for my well-being.
  • Monogamy is also a popular candidate for comfort trap status. I know people who advocate the virtues of polyamory because it is hard.
  • I suspect that tree-changing is a comfort trap for me. Cities get me down sometimes, with all the cultural friction and lack of quiet time, but you know what gets me down even more? The isolation and lack of cultural diversity in the countryside. And I can take a holiday in the countryside when I need it.
  • For Germans, modern pop stoics and Wim Hof, warm showers are a comfort trap.
  • I’m pretty sure comfort food is called that because of being a comfort trap.
  • Sitting desks are sometimes supposed to be a comfort trap. Probably not for me; I’m not very comfortable sitting.
  • Barefoot runners argue that shoes are a comfort trap.
  • Lukianoff and Haidt argue that safe spaces are a comfort trap (Lukianoff and Haidt 2015, 2019).
  • Excessive conflict avoidance seems to be a comfort trap.
  • Clinical psychologists refer to maladaptive coping which seems to include various comfort traps, such as avoidance coping.
  • Uber eats? How about that?
  • Perhaps addictions are built upon comfort traps?



Higgins, E. Tory, Janina Marguc, and Abigail A. Scholer. 2012. β€œValue From Adversity: How We Deal With Adversity Matters.” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 48 (4): 965–67.
Lukianoff, Greg, and Jonathan Haidt. 2015. β€œHow Trigger Warnings Are Hurting Mental Health on Campus.” The Atlantic, August 11, 2015.
β€”β€”β€”. 2019. The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure. New York City: Penguin Books.
Seery, Mark D., E. Alison Holman, and Roxane Cohen Silver. 2010. β€œWhatever does not kill us: cumulative lifetime adversity, vulnerability, and resilience.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 99 (6): 1025–41.
Strauman, Timothy J., Yvonne Socolar, Lori Kwapil, James F. M. Cornwell, Becca Franks, Steen Sehnert, and E. Tory Higgins. 2015. β€œMicrointerventions Targeting Regulatory Focus and Regulatory Fit Selectively Reduce Dysphoric and Anxious Mood.” Behaviour Research and Therapy 72 (September): 18–29.

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