“If you've been looking for something different to level up your health, fitness, and personal growth, this is it.”—Melissa Urban, Whole30 CEO and New York Times bestselling author
Discover the evolutionary mind and body benefits of living at the edges of your comfort zone and reconnecting with the wild.
In many ways, we’re more comfortable than ever before. But could our sheltered, temperature-controlled, overfed, underchallenged lives actually be the leading cause of many our most urgent physical and mental health issues? In this gripping investigation, award-winning journalist Michael Easter seeks out off-the-grid visionaries, disruptive genius researchers, and mind-body conditioning trailblazers who are unlocking the life-enhancing secrets of a counterintuitive solution: discomfort.
Easter’s journey to understand our evolutionary need to be challenged takes him to meet the NBA’s top exercise scientist, who uses an ancient Japanese practice to build championship athletes; to the mystical country of Bhutan, where an Oxford economist and Buddhist leader are showing the world what death can teach us about happiness; to the outdoor lab of a young neuroscientist who’s found that nature tests our physical and mental endurance in ways that expand creativity while taming burnout and anxiety; to the remote Alaskan backcountry on a demanding thirty-three-day hunting expedition to experience the rewilding secrets of one of the last rugged places on Earth; and more.
Along the way, Easter uncovers a blueprint for leveraging the power of discomfort that will dramatically improve our health and happiness, and perhaps even help us understand what it means to be human. The Comfort Crisis is a bold call to break out of your comfort zone and explore the wild within yourself.
“Changes the way we think about the modern world and how everyday conveniences are eroding our understanding of what it mean to be human.” —Richard Dorment, editor-in-chief, Men’s Health
“I read The Comfort Crisis in three straight sittings and was so motivated and inspired that I immediately made changes to my daily routines. Two months later, I've never been fitter, more self-confident, or happier. If you've been looking for something different to level up your health, fitness, and personal growth, THIS IS IT.” —Melissa Urban, Whole30 CEO and six-time New York Times bestselling author
“Entertaining and enlightening, Easter’s quest for a ‘rewilded’ diet, creative boredom, and other sensation-restoring discomforts is chock-full of solid science as well as a rollicking adventure.” —Dan Fagin, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation
“Breezy and yet bracing synthesis of tough adventures and hard science. Ironic, perhaps, for a book about how we need to challenge ourselves to be so enjoyable to read.” —Robert Moor, New York Times bestselling author of On Trails: An Exploration
“An entertaining and thought-provoking adventure that weaves together findings from anthropology, physiology, neuroscience, and other disciplines. Easter makes a convincing case that happiness is more than the absence of cold, hunger, and boredom—in fact, a little discomfort may be exactly what we need.” —Alex Hutchinson, New York Times bestselling author of Endure
“This revelatory, illuminating book is packed with big ideas on how our overly comfortable lives and routines have chipped away at our physical, mental, and emotional health.” —Liz Plosser, editor-in-chief, Women’s Health
“An unconventional clarion call to swim upstream against the currents of comfort and ease that we seek and have grown unquestioningly used to. Not for the soft, or faint of heart, this appeals to the tough, or those who seek to be. A good read that challenges conventional wisdom about living life.” —James Clapper, former U.S. Director of National Intelligence
“Shows why human greatness seldom rises from a perch of comfort and ease—and what you can do to maximize growth and fulfillment.” —Brian L. Losey, (ret) Commander of U.S. Navy Special Warfare Command
“Made me look differently at adversity, at challenges, at discomfort. Reading it made me want to be better, and a book simply can’t deliver more than that.” —Tamar Haspel, columnist, Washington Post
“I read The Comfort Crisis in three straight sittings, and was so motivated and inspired that I immediately made changes to my daily routines. Two months later, I've never been fitter, more self-confident, or happier.” —Melissa Urban, Whole30 CEO and New York Times bestselling author
Michael Easter is a contributing editor at Men’s Health magazine, columnist for Outside magazine, and professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. His work has appeared in more than sixty countries and can also be found in Men’s Journal, New York, Vice, Scientific American, Esquire, and others. He lives in Las Vegas on the edge of the desert with his wife and their two dogs.
I’m standing on a windy tarmac in Kotzebue, Alaska, a 3,000-person village 20 miles above the Arctic Circle on the Chukchi Sea. In front of me are two airplanes. One will soon dump me deep into the Alaskan Arctic, a place that’s generally agreed to be one of the loneliest, most remote and hostile on earth. I’m on edge.
This impending voyage into the Arctic is one thing. But I’m also no fan of flying. Particularly when it’s in planes like these: single-engine, two-and four-seater bush craft. Picture empty Campbell’s soup cans with wings.
Donnie Vincent, a backcountry bow hunter and documentary filmmaker with me on this expedition, senses my nerves. He sidles up to my shoulder, leans in, and lowers his voice. “Most of the pilots up here are whiskey-swilling cowboy mountain men. The type of guys who don’t think twice about getting into a bar fight,” he says over the freezing gusts. “But just so you know, I booked the absolute best pilot I could. Brian is Top Gun.” I nod thanks. Donnie continues.
“I’m not telling you we’re not going to crash and die. That is a real risk, OK? But this guy is good. So the odds that we’ll be in a plane crash are . . .” My edginess amplifies into existential dread as I cut him off. “OK,” I say. “Got it.”
Commercial flying is incredibly safe. The statistics say you’re infinitely more likely to die in a crash on the way to the airport than you are in the plane. But this rule does not apply to bush plane flights in Alaska.
About 100 of these flights a year end in fire and brimstone, and the FAA recently released an “unprecedented warning” to Alaskan bush plane pilots after a spike in accidents. This year has been particularly bad. Fierce weather and thick wildfire smoke have been messing with visibility. Donnie tells me that Brian has a colleague named Mike, for example, who recently crashed after misreading the weather. Mike was lucky enough to walk away, but the plane had to be rebuilt.
Which raises a question. Should we be surprised that rinky-dink aircraft maintained and piloted by adrenaline-addicted men fueled by grain alcohol, chewing tobacco, and caffeine pills don’t always maintain loft through unpredictable, biblical weather and fiery haze, or stick landings on icy lakes and boulder-pocked streambeds?
This outfit is called Ram Aviation. It’s a two-pilot operation that works out of a Conex shipping container at Kotzebue’s local airport, which is a row of tin sheds and containers dumped alongside a strip of frozen blacktop. Ram specializes in ferrying hunters and adventurers far into the Alaskan Arctic. Our pilot, Brian—who wears Carhartt work pants, a light jacket despite temps in the 30s, and a beard that falls to the top of his chest—approaches me to try to clean up Donnie’s mess.
“You know, you actually picked a great day to fly,” he says.
“Why’s that?” I ask.
“Well, it’s not too foggy,” Brian says. “These winds are fine. But when the fog is too low, it can cause all kinds of visibility problems. Those are what cause most of the crashes. See, if you look . . .” Brian walks across the tarmac to the outer edge of the Conex box and points an overbuilt finger northeastward to the gray mountains. He squints. Pauses.
“Well, actually, um . . . there is some fog over there now. And that’s where we’re going. But, um . . . don’t worry. We’ll watch and go and figure it out.”
I’m wondering on what page “watch and go and figure it out” appears in the official FAA flight safety manual as Brian cranes forward to assess the fog like you might a spiraling, looping roller coaster that you’re thinking of riding. He pulls out his phone, logs onto weather .gov, and inspects the Doppler data.
Then he pockets his device and signals me to follow. We all step into the Conex box and stand in front of a map of the area that stretches seven by four feet across a wall. There’s me, Brian, Donnie, and William Altman, Donnie’s lifelong cinematographer.
The map’s bottom-left corner is pierced by a red pushpin, indicating our location in Kotzebue. The pin marks the only sign of civilization on this great stretch of cartogram. Brian flips open a Benchmade pocketknife.
“There’s a little knob we can land on right about here,” he says, using the knife’s point to pin down a pixel of earth four feet across the map from Kotzebue. I ask Brian about the map’s distance and scale, and he takes his thumb and covers the dot he just identified.
“Where my thumb is covering . . . you couldn’t walk that in a day,” he says. “Not even close. This is big, big country.” And our destination is many, many thumbs from here. Brian closes the knife and says, “Let’s load up and go before that fog gets worse.”
I grab my 80-pound backpack, which carries most everything I’ll need to survive over the next 33 days. Layers of clothing, food, emergency medical kit, etc. Brian stops me as I’m lugging the bag over to his plane.
“You and William are in that one,” he says, pointing to a green-and-gold four-seater Cessna. We muscle our packs into the plane’s hull, and I step up into its passenger door and contort myself into its backseat. My knees are jammed up into my throat back here.
William takes shotgun. We wait as the plane rocks with the wind, which is pushing more salty fog from the sea across the land and into its mountains.
Flying in winged tin cans into questionable weather will be just one peril of this trip. Once Brian dumps us in the Arctic backcountry we’ll face more dangers: furious grizzlies, 1,500-pound moose, packs of flesh-craving wolves, wild-eyed wolverines, blood-addicted badgers, raging glacial rivers, violent whiteout snowstorms, subzero temperatures, hurricane-force winds, precipitous cliffs, deadly diseases with names like tularemia and hantavirus, swarming mosquitoes, swarming mice, swarming rats, the runs, the barfs, the bleeds . . . There might be a million ways to die in the West, but there are 2 million in the Alaskan backcountry.
Our only way out? We’ll trudge hundreds of miles across that rugged world until Brian picks us up. Along the way we’ll be searching for a mythical herd of caribou. A migrating army of 400-pound ghosts who silently roam the Arctic tundra, their gnarled, four-foot antlers emerging from the crystalline fog only to disappear when the wind shifts. And we won’t be the only species hunting them.
“Apparently there’s a big bear problem in the Arctic right now. Last time Donnie and I were up here we saw nineteen grizzlies,” William says. “We’ll be seeing more this time.” A recent change in a hunting law, he heard, led to an unintended explosion in the grizzly population. They can reach ten feet tall and weigh more than 1,000 pounds. They’re now hungry and competing for food. Very hungry.
“Are the gun and bow in this plane?” I ask.
“Nope,” says William, inspecting the plane’s old dials and switches. “Both are with Donnie.”
Not that our gun is the ideal tool for grizzly defense, anyway. It’s a 30-06 bolt-action rifle. It could knock down a bear from 700 yards. But grizzly attacks don’t happen at a distance. If a bear charges, this rifle will allow for a single shot, which means I shouldn’t fire until I was just about Eskimo-kissing the beast. Then I’d ask God to send that bullet into a vital organ. The upside? If I miss I won’t have to worry about taking this shitty plane home.