Home > The Comfort Book

The Comfort Book
Author: Matt Haig

 


PART ONE

 

 

Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition.

    James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room

 

 

Baby


   Imagine yourself as a baby. You would look at that baby and think they lacked nothing. That baby came complete. Their value was innate from their first breath. Their value did not depend on external things like wealth or appearance or politics or popularity. It was the infinite value of a human life. And that value stays with us, even as it becomes easier to forget it. We stay precisely as alive and precisely as human as we were the day we were born. The only thing we need is to exist. And to hope.

 

 

You are the goal


   You don’t have to continually improve yourself to love yourself. Love is not something you deserve only if you reach a goal. The world is one of pressure but don’t let it squeeze your self-compassion. You were born worthy of love and you remain worthy of love. Be kind to yourself.

 

 

Nothing is stronger than a small hope that doesn’t give up.

 

 

A thing my dad said once when we were lost in a forest


   Once upon a time, my father and I got lost in a forest in France. I must have been about twelve or thirteen. Anyway, it was before the era when most people owned a mobile phone. We were on vacation the rural, landlocked, basic kind of middle-class vacation I didn’t really understand. It was in the Loire Valley, and we had gone for a run. About half an hour in, my dad realized the truth. “Oh, it seems that we’re lost.” We walked around and around in circles, trying to find the path, but with no luck. My dad asked two men—poachers—for directions and they sent us the wrong way. I could tell my dad was starting to panic, even as he was trying to hide it from me. We had been in the forest for hours now and both knew my mom would be in a state of absolute terror. At school, I had just been told the Bible story of the Israelites who had died in the wilderness and I found it easy to imagine that would be our fate too. “If we keep going in a straight line we’ll get out of here,” my dad said.

   And he was right. Eventually we heard the sound of cars and reached a main road. We were eleven miles from the village where we had started off, but at least we had signposts now. We were clear of the trees. And I often think of that strategy, when I am totally lost—literally or metaphorically. I thought of it when I was in the middle of a breakdown. When I was living in a panic attack punctuated only by depression, when my heart pounded rapidly with fear, when I hardly knew who I was and didn’t know how I could carry on living. If we keep going in a straight line we’ll get out of here. Walking one foot in front of the other, in the same direction, will always get you further than running around in circles. It’s about the determination to keep walking forward.

 

 

It’s okay


   It’s okay to be broken.

   It’s okay to wear the scars of experience.

   It’s okay to be a mess.

   It’s okay to be the teacup with a chip in it. That’s the one with a story.

   It’s okay to be sentimental and whimsical and cry bittersweet tears at songs and movies you aren’t supposed to love.

   It’s okay to like what you like.

   It’s okay to like things for literally no other reason than because you like them and not because they are cool or clever or popular.

   It’s okay to let people find you. You don’t have to spread yourself so thin you become invisible. You don’t have to always be the person reaching out. You can sometimes allow yourself to be reached. As the great writer Anne Lamott puts it: “Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island for boats to save; they just stand there shining.”

   It’s okay not to make the most of every chunk of time.

   It’s okay to be who you are.

   It’s okay.

 

 

Power


   Marcus Aurelius, Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher, thought that if we are distressed about something external, “the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”

   I love this, but also know from experience that finding that power can be near impossible at times. We can’t just click our fingers and be rid of, say, grief, or the stress of work, or health worries. When we are lost in the forest, our fear might not be directly caused by the forest, or our being lost in said forest, but while we are actively lost in the forest it very much feels like the source of our fear is being lost in the forest.

   But it is helpful to remember that our perspective is our world. And our external circumstances don’t need to change in order for our perspective to change. And the forests we find ourselves in are metaphorical, and sometimes we are unable to escape them, but with a change of perspective we can live among the trees.

 

 

Nothing either good or bad


   When Hamlet tells his old university buddies Rosencrantz and Guildenstern that “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so,” he doesn’t mean this in a positive way. Shakespeare’s prince is in a foul and depressed mood, but with reason. He is talking about Denmark, and indeed the whole world, being a prison. For him, Denmark really is a physical and psychological prison. But he is also aware that perspective plays a part in this. And that the world and Denmark aren’t intrinsically bad. They are bad from his perspective. They are bad because he thinks they are.

   External events are neutral. They only gain positive or negative value the moment they enter our minds. It is ultimately up to us how we greet these things. It’s not always easy, sure, but there is a comfort in knowing it is possible to view any single thing in multiple ways. It also empowers us, because we aren’t at the mercy of the world we can never control, we are at the mercy of a mind we can, potentially, with effort and determination, begin to alter and expand. Our mind might make prisons, but it also gives us keys.

 

 

Change is real


   We turn keys all the time. Or rather: time turns keys all the time. Because time means change.

   And change is the nature of life. The reason to hope.

   Neuroplasticity is the way our brains change their structure according to the things we experience. None of us are the same people we were ten years ago. When we feel or experience terrible things, it is useful to remember that nothing lasts. Perspective shifts. We become different versions of ourselves. The hardest question I have ever been asked is: “How do I stay alive for other people if I have no one?” The answer is that you stay alive for other versions of you. For the people you will meet, yes, sure, but also the people you will be.

 

 

To be is to let go


   Self-forgiveness makes the world better. You don’t become a good person by believing you are a bad one.

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