For three days I averaged only a few miserable hours of sleep a night while camped out on the prairie. I alternated time between trying to get comfortable on my thin and far-too-narrow sleeping mat, scratching dozens of fresh mosquito bites, and wiping away the sweat trickling down my chest from the withering heat. Could I have stayed that uncomfortable indefinitely? No way. Am I glad I spend a little time suffering like that a few times a year? Actually, yes.
Like most people, I live a very relaxed life when I’m not hunting, camping, or exploring. Arguably too relaxed, at times. I work in an air-conditioned office, sleep on a cloud-like mattress, and only encounter bugs when mowing my lawn. Living so comfortably for extended periods shifts your baseline tolerance for pain and boredom until even the most minor discomfort can seem overwhelming. Voluntarily subjecting yourself to periodical suffering, inconvenience, and boredom, as disagreeable as that may sound, can help reset that scale.
Mental and physical toughness
Suffering helps to develop a mental and physical endurance that can enable you to persevere through almost any challenge. Once you’ve withstood blizzards or intense heat, clouds of biting bugs or itchy rashes that keep you up at night, blistered feet and a sore back, daily inconveniences seem trifling. It may sound trite, but only once you’ve tested your limits will you know the true scope of what you’re capable of tolerating—and the results may surprise you.
Successful candidates of the U.S. Navy SEAL BUD/S selection and training course, a grueling 24-week-long program designed to weed out those who can’t meet the rigid physical and mental requirements of one of the military’s most elite units, frequently cite the importance of mental toughness when overcoming even predominately physical challenges. Even those in superior athletic condition may fall by the wayside during such trials; if the mind is telling you you’re done, you’re done—even if the body is capable of continuing on. The only way to develop that mental toughness is to subject yourself to adversity and overcome it.
Appreciation for life’s luxuries
It’s easy to forget that, less than a century ago, many of the things we now take for granted and view as essential—instant communications, air-conditioning, and modern refrigeration to name a few—were luxuries beyond imagination. Giving them up for a few days here and there reminds us that we can survive and thrive without them, and it boosts our appreciation of them once we’ve returned. After a few days of drinking only tepid water out of an aluminum canteen, for instance, a cold drink from the refrigerator tastes especially good.
The value of boredom
For many in modern society, the most painful sensation of any they can experience is the mental anguish brought on by boredom. Technology has all but eliminated that sensation: We have smart phones and devices, streaming services, and video games to entertain and stimulate us during our every waking moment, if we so choose. But experiencing boredom can be enormously beneficial to our health and wellness. According to Psychology Today, boredom can improve your mental health in a number of ways, including stress relief, sparking creativity and curiosity, improving self-control, and encouraging the pursuit of fulfilling goals.