As we grow older, do we seek comfort in the familiar?

As I grow older, I find myself turning into a creature of habit. I have the same breakfast no matter where in the world I am. I wear the same perfume, buying a new bottle when the old one looks like it will soon run empty.

brunch Updated: Mar 23, 2013 18:20 IST
Seema Goswami
Seema Goswami
Hindustan Times

As I grow older, I find myself turning into a creature of habit. I have the same breakfast no matter where in the world I am. I wear the same perfume, buying a new bottle when the old one looks like it will soon run empty. I shop at the same stores; I buy the same labels. I read the same authors, waiting impatiently for their next book to be out. I eat out at the same restaurants time and again; hell, I even order the same dishes.

I guess you could say that I seek comfort in the familiar. It could be the Greek salad at my favourite café, a staple of many lunchtimes, with the sharp tang of onions offsetting the soothing creaminess of feta cheese. It could be the dog-eared copy of a favourite book, where the plot springs no surprises, the characters are like old friends, and the dialogues so familiar that I know the best lines by heart. It could be the sagging old couch at home, that has long since moulded itself to my contours. It could be reruns of a favourite sitcom to rewind after a long day (though Friends has been replaced by Modern Family in my household).

In some ways, of course, this is a basic human instinct. From the time we are born, we seek out our comfort zone amid a forbidding, unfamiliar world. We first find it at our mothers’ breasts, her smell and touch providing us with a sense of security and well-being. As infants, we move on to being secure in the environs of our home, which is why being sent off to school is such a traumatic transition. And no matter how much we complain about school as we struggle with our homework, it is a wrench to leave the comfort zone it represents to move into college.

Comfort zones keep us feeling safe and secure. But sometimes they also make us fearful and timid, afraid of venturing forth from our shells to explore what the world has to offer.

We are afraid to leave jobs that we loathe because there is a certain comfort factor in the familiarity they represent (rather the devil we know, we tell ourselves dourly). We are reluctant to end bad relationships because we fear being alone more than we hate being lonely. We stay in unhappy marriages because it is too scary to even contemplate the alternative.

Sometimes our reliance on comfort zones means that we miss out on a lot of what the world has to offer. I have friends who head back to the same holiday spot every summer with their kids, even though the world is littered with better beaches, more stunning mountains, and far more exciting cities. But they like the fact that they can walk around the streets without getting lost; that the waiters in the neighbourhood bistros know their kids by name and dote on them; that there is a certain familiarity to the surroundings.

I know how they feel. There was a phase in my life when I used to head to London every time I got some time off. I loved the idea of going back to familiar haunts: the perfume department at Liberty; the shoe section at Harvey Nichols; the lingerie section of Marks & Spencer. Every trip to London had the same rituals. A stop at Nicky Clarke to get a ruinously expensive haircut; a visit to a theatre to watch a play; a walk through Hyde Park; window-shopping on Bond Street; an orgy of book buying at Waterstones.

That phase is now over. My biannual pilgrimage to my spiritual home, London, has been junked as I explore uncharted territory on my holidays. And thanks to my new-found taste for adventure - and my decision to venture out of my comfort zones – I have discovered the delights that the world has to offer. I have tracked lions in the African jungle; marvelled at the wonder that is the Great Barrier Reef of Australia; trekked up the heights of Machu Picchu; taken a helicopter ride to a live volcano in New Zealand; bathed in the waters of a spewing geyser in Iceland. Okay, I’ll stop showing off now.

But my point is that however much we want to stay within the safety of our comfort zones, sometimes it makes sense to venture outside and see what else is out there. It could be the small stuff: signing up for a salsa class instead of pounding away on the treadmill. Or it could be the big one: giving up on a dead-end relationship or a soul-sapping job in the hope of starting something new. Either way, sometimes it makes sense to leave the security of a comfort zone for the excitement of a new start. You really should try it sometimes.

From HT Brunch, March 24

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First Published: Mar 22, 2013 15:02 IST