Carry on pampering: A brief look at “comfort addiction”

“Comfort addiction is everywhere in 2019. There are TED Talks, rehab treatments and academic articles devoted to this new-age compulsion – just ask Keith Richards or King Salman of Saudi Arabia” (The Tatler, 2019).

This opening quote is from a recent article by Helen Kirwan-Taylor in The Tatler sent to me by psychotherapist Christopher Burn (whose book Poetry Changes Lives I mentioned in a previous article on ‘poetry addiction‘). He thought I might be interested in writing an article on it (and he was right). Anything with the word ‘addiction’ attached to something I have not come across before I always going to arouse my curiosity. I typed in “comfort addiction” to Google and was surprised to find quite a few articles such as ‘Overcome your comfort addiction’ (in The Huffington Post), ‘Are you ready to start conquering your dangerous addiction to comfort?’ (in The Entrepreneur), ‘Are you addicted to comfort?’ (in The New Man), ‘Living in the age of comfort addiction‘ (Patheos.com), and ‘Our crippling addiction to comfort’ (in The Inspirational Lifestyle). I even came across a television news item on Good Morning San Diego (pictured below).

Screen Shot 2019-06-06 at 16.49.45

The thrust of Kirwan-Taylor’s article is that some individuals are addicted to “indulgence” and recounts anecdotes of celebrities (both living and dead such as Queen Victoria, Hillary Clinton and Kate Moss) and a few non-celebrities who apparently suffer or suffered from such an ‘addiction’. A few examples of alleged ‘comfort addiction’ from the article included the following:

Pink Floyd toured with an ‘Ambience Director’ to ensure their every whim was catered for in distant lands. Keith Richards has a shepherd’s pie made for him before every Stones gig…Lionel Richie takes his own scented candle to ward off unsavoury smells and make places ‘feel like home’; and the late AA Gill, a former Tatler writer, used to always request the same table at The Wolseley for breakfast”.

Kirwan-Taylor then goes on to assert that ‘comfort addiction’ is a “vice about which few are willing to go on the record”. The first thing to say is that the examples cited have absolutely nothing to do with any operational definition of addiction that I can think of, and the word ‘addiction’ is being used in a light-hearted or throwaway manner (as well as an arguably sensationalist tactic to get people like myself to read it). One of Kirwan-Taylor’s interviewees was a private banker named only as ‘Simon’ (born with a silver ladle in his mouth):

“Comfort addiction is little talked about because sufferers know that it’s a pretty unattractive condition. I’ve started to decline shooting invitations because you can never be sure whether the mattress will be firm enough, the sheets clean enough or the bathroom en suite. Statelies [stately homes] are particularly uncomfortable”.

The article’s apparent rationale for calling such behaviour an ‘addiction’ is that there are addictive elements such as mood modification, withdrawal symptoms, and interpersonal conflict. More specifically, (i) comfort is similar to addictive substances (such as cocaine, alcohol and sugar) and makes individuals “feel temporarily better [and] soothes away life’s irritants” [mood modification] (ii) any sudden withdrawal of comfort leads the individuals “into a combination of acute anxiety, helplessness and rage” [withdrawal symptoms], and (iii) there are individuals are prepared to forego social events with friends because they are afraid to undergo any type of discomfort (presumably both psychological and physical although the article doesn’t explicitly say) [interpersonal conflict]. To overcome the lack of creature comforts, such individuals will bring their own bedding, food, drink, and eating and drinking utensils when staying at hotels or at friends’ houses. As one (unnamed) hotelier claimed:

“[Such individuals] don’t like the idea of sleeping on the same bed linen a thousand other people have slept on before. They prefer snuggling up in something that feels like home”.

To be honest, I can understand some of the thought processes behind this. I never ever (and I really do mean never) try on clothes or shoes in a shop before buying them because all I can think about is the number of sweaty and/or unclean people who might have tried on the clothing before me. Kirwan-Taylor also makes the claim that:

“There are, of course, varying levels of creature comfort. The late Karl Lagerfeld not only travelled by private jet with his own bookcase, he also went to extraordinary lengths to cosset his guests, too [such as building] a tennis court on his property at Biarritz as an enticement for [Anna Wintour] to visit…It is [also] rumoured that when King Salman of Saudi Arabia was due to stay at the One & Only Reethi Rah in the Maldives in 2017, he asked for exclusive hire of the hotel and that it be repainted and fitted with gold handrails. At his request, a hospital was apparently built on-site, and nannies, personal trainers, security and chefs were flown in by private jet. In the end, the King never turned up”.

According to Kirwan-Taylor, there are other factors that facilitate ‘comfort addiction’ of which age is one. To support this proposition, the article featured quotes from Dr Robert Biswas-Diener (co-author of self-help book The Upside of Your Dark Side as well as a TED Talk on ‘comfort addiction’) who described the phenomenon of ‘comfort inflation’ which turns into an “expectation”. He claimed (and I agree with such claims) that:

“Standards inflate over time. When you’re a student, a futon seems fine. By the time you’re 40, you can only sleep in a super king. It’s a natural progression. Business class gets you off and on the plane first. You sit by yourself. If you’re flying economy and you’re upgraded, you’re elated. If you’re flying business and are downgraded, you’re fuming. It’s easier to adjust upwards than downwards… Comfort is about convenience, privacy and safety. It is all about control. When you’re lumped in economy you have no idea who you will be sitting next to”.

When it comes to flying business class, I can only concur. Because of a degenerative medical condition, I can no longer fly long distances in economy class. If my clients want my services, flying business class is a minimum. I’m not bothered about the service received by the airline staff or boarding the plane first (although that’s admittedly nice), I just want comfort on the plane (and access to the comfortable seating or showers in the business lounge). I could argue (based on my own research) that there is an analogy to the concept of ‘tolerance’ here (the needing of more and more of a particular substance or behaviour to get the same initial mood-modifying effects). Whereas I was once happy to be flying on a plane to get from A to B, now I want the ultimate in comfort. I now discuss which airline’s business class I prefer or which business lounges are best. One of my colleagues once called me a “comfort junkie” (which again plays on the addiction analogy) but all this really means I like my five-star hotels and creature comforts (you will never see me go camping again in my life).

As Kirwan-Taylor’s article points out, “[individuals] quickly adjust to our new standards and [they] want more”. The article also includes a quote from George Harrison who once said “Do you remember when we were so poor we had to fly first class?”. Other signs that individuals have a ‘comfort addiction’ is individuals who “install home gyms, cinemas and hair salons [in their homes] as standard”. And too much comfort may not be a good thing for us. Kirwan-Taylor also interviewed Norman Doidge (author of The Brain That Changes Itself) who asserted:

“Too much comfort lowers resilience and with it the ability to deal with challenges. It is the willingness to leave the comfort zone that is key to keeping the brain new”

Obviously I don’t think ‘comfort addiction’ exists but I don’t deny some people’s experiences relating to comfort (including my own personal experiences) and I could certainly make an argument that there are some addiction-like elements.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Distinguished Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK 

Further reading

Doidge, N. (2008). The Brain That Changes Itself. London: Penguin.

Haisha, L. (2011). Overcome your ‘comfort addiction’. Huffington Post, November 17. Located at: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/overcome-your-comfort-add_n_637327

Kashdan, T. & Biswas-Diener, R. (2014). The Upside of Your Dark Side. London: Penguin.

Kirwan-Taylor, H. (2019). Are you a comfort addict and utterly addicted to indulgence? The Tatler, May 14. Located at: https://www.tatler.com/article/are-you-a-comfort-addict

Lanier, T. (2015). Are you addicted to comfort? The New Man, June 1. Located at: https://www.thenewmanpodcast.com/2015/06/are-you-addicted-to-comfort/

Munro, D. (2017). Our crippling addiction to comfort. The Inspirational Lifestyle, May 22. Located at: http://www.theinspirationallifestyle.com/our-crippling-addiction-to-comfort/

Schmidt, M. (2017). Living in the age of comfort addiction. Patheos.com, February 28. Located at: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/takeandread/2017/02/living-age-comfort-addiction-qa-erin-straza/

Shore, J. (2015). Are you ready to start conquering your dangerous addiction to comfort? The Entrepreneur, April 2. Located at: https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/244480

About drmarkgriffiths

Professor MARK GRIFFITHS, BSc, PhD, CPsychol, PGDipHE, FBPsS, FRSA, AcSS. Dr. Mark Griffiths is a Chartered Psychologist and Distinguished Professor of Behavioural Addiction at the Nottingham Trent University, and Director of the International Gaming Research Unit. He is internationally known for his work into gambling and gaming addictions and has won many awards including the American 1994 John Rosecrance Research Prize for “outstanding scholarly contributions to the field of gambling research”, the 1998 European CELEJ Prize for best paper on gambling, the 2003 Canadian International Excellence Award for “outstanding contributions to the prevention of problem gambling and the practice of responsible gambling” and a North American 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award For Contributions To The Field Of Youth Gambling “in recognition of his dedication, leadership, and pioneering contributions to the field of youth gambling”. In 2013, he was given the Lifetime Research Award from the US National Council on Problem Gambling. He has published over 800 research papers, five books, over 150 book chapters, and over 1500 other articles. He has served on numerous national and international committees (e.g. BPS Council, BPS Social Psychology Section, Society for the Study of Gambling, Gamblers Anonymous General Services Board, National Council on Gambling etc.) and is a former National Chair of Gamcare. He also does a lot of freelance journalism and has appeared on over 3500 radio and television programmes since 1988. In 2004 he was awarded the Joseph Lister Prize for Social Sciences by the British Association for the Advancement of Science for being one of the UK’s “outstanding scientific communicators”. His awards also include the 2006 Excellence in the Teaching of Psychology Award by the British Psychological Society and the British Psychological Society Fellowship Award for “exceptional contributions to psychology”.

Posted on June 9, 2019, in Addiction, Case Studies, Compulsion, Drug use, Fame, Psychology and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Mary Burgess

    Very interesting! I’d agree that this doesn’t really qualify as an addiction. I’d also say that camping is something I never expected to ‘enjoy’ again, but Glastonbury with our 3 children (three times during their teens/ early 20s) changed all that. Comfortable it is not – but the extraordinary experience and incredible music blow any need for fluffy pillows and fancy sheets clean away!

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