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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Comfort and Well-being

In reading some excerpts from the book, Home: A Short History of an Idea by Witold Rybczynski (recommended by a fellow artist, Kate Fisher), I immediately found myself reading the last chapter of the book on "comfort" and "well-being."  Usually, when I think about home, I think about these things so it seemed fitting for me to get down to business and immediately read that chapter.  Well, after I read the foreword and chapter 1 on "Nostalgia."  At any rate, Rybczynski hooked me at the beginning of chapter 10 when he said,

"Domestic well-being is a fundamental human need that is DEEPLY rooted in us, and that must be satisfied."

As an architect, he goes on to explain that we should not confuse the idea of comfort with décor.  Décor does not necessarily make a house comfortable.  Then he breaks down the history of different floor plans and how they have evolved over time to accommodate our comfort and needs and on and on and on...

However, what struck me the most interesting is the idea of measuring comfort.  How do you do that? Rybczynski thinks that maybe the only way we can measure comfort is by measuring discomfort.  Discomfort is much more measureable.  He says, "the simplest response would be that comfort is physiology -- feeling good."

I know when something feels good, right? My pillow sure does feel good when I lay my head on it every night, but would I know that it felt good if I had not experienced what felt bad?  My head did not feel good when it was resting on the dentist's chair for 3 hours on Friday.  That did not feel good at all.  I could definitely measure that much more accurately than I can measure the comfort my pillow gives me. The way Rybczynski sums it up in the end is perfect. He gives the example that most people say,

"I may not know why I like it, but I know what I like."

He continues to say,

"This recognition involves a combination of sensations -- many of them subconscious -- and not only physical, but also emotional as well as intellectual, which makes comfort difficult to explain and impossible to measure."

All of this makes me think of the longing we have for home and place.  We have this stuff.  Pictures.  Cushy pillows and blankets.  Fluffy rugs.  Pottery.  All this stuff that we fill our houses with trying to make it home. Trying to make it comfortable.  We are searching for comfort.  For the past 3 summers, I have lived in Colorado.  My room there is this generic room in a building of other generic rooms. They all look the same. They all have the same furniture. They all have the same stark walls.  I can't stand it.  I want it to be my "home" not just the place that I sleep.  So what do I do? I take photos of FRIENDS and FAMILY and favorite pieces of pottery that remind me of the PEOPLE who made them.  A Nestle chocolate tin can that my FRIEND gave me.  I hang special postcards and notes on the wall by my bed that special PEOPLE in my life wrote to me.  All of the stuff that I take there is related to people and that is what brings me comfort.  They are my friends. My family.  Is this longing that we have for home and comfort really a longing for family?  Is it family that brings you comfort?  Can we measure it accurately if we have not experienced the discomfort of missing parts of a family?  

Works Cited
Rybczynski, Witold. Home: A Short History of an Idea. New York: Penguin Books, 1987. Print.

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