Several resources, including one from an attorney in California and another from an attorney in Arizona state that harm or damages to the non-breaching party is an essential element of a breach of contract action. This is apparently confirmed in the Colorado case W. Distrib. Co. v. Diodosio, 841 P.2d 1053, 1058 (Colo. 1992). In other words, if there has been no harm, no breach has occurred.
Taking this to its logical conclusion, it would mean that every single contract term in every single contract includes an implied clause limiting its application to instances where violating its requirements results in actual, legally cognizable damages. For example, a contract that provides, "Alice promises to Bob that she will not do the Hokey Pokey." actually means "Alice can do the Hokey Pokey all she wants as long as she doesn't thereby hurt Bob (e.g. causing an oil spill on his land, making his crops fail, making his debtors unable to pay him, driving away his customers, causing a personal injury, etc.).".
For a more practical example, I recently signed a car rental contract in which I agreed not to take the car outside of a specified geographical area without permission. Applying this harm rule, a court would actually interpret the clause to mean that I may take the car outside of that geographical area as long as no harm to the other party occurs (e.g. a car wreck, weather damage that is greater than it would have been if the car had been kept within the specified area, etc.). I could theoretically tell them, "Yes, I took the car to Oklahoma in violation of the letter of the contract, but I returned it without any more damage and wear and tear than it would have sustained had I kept it in Texas as I promised. Even if it did sustain damage as a direct result of my actions, there's no way you could prove that the damage was caused by my travel to Oklahoma or that it would necessarily not have occurred if I had stayed in Texas. No harm, no breach, get off my case!".
This would also mean that harms that the law typically does not consider, such as emotional trauma not rising to the level of IIED, likely also do not result in a breach of contract even if the express terms of the contract forbid the behavior that inflicted the trauma.
This seems untenable, as it would blur the distinction between contract and tort law and turn breach of contract into some sort of quasi-tort action. Common sense (which might not actually be worth that much) tells me that reducing every contract to "don't hurt the other party to this contract" isn't realistic and that a judge would look at me very strangely when I tell him that I gleefully turned around and did almost everything I promised not to do and almost nothing of what I promised to do but that at least nobody got hurt so please rule in my favor kthxbai.
So, strictly speaking, is a legally cognizable injury an essential element in breach of contract under Common Law principles?
To be clear, I'm not asking for help with any specific jurisdiction, but am asking about the history and theory of breach of contract under Common Law.
Another way to phrase the same question is, is "Nobody got hurt" a complete defense to an action for breach of contract (i.e. it is not a breach at all and the court would rule in favor of the defendant), or is lack of harm only be a mitigating factor when deciding how much to award the plaintiff for the defendant's breach?
I'm picturing this sort of scenario more with standard form contracts that forbid all sorts of apparently innocuous behavior than with short, bespoke contracts that get right to the heart of the matter. For example, I might read a standard form contract and think, "There's no way they would know if I violated this clause or not. Even if they knew, there's no way they would actually be harmed. Even if they were harmed, there's no way they could prove it in court. Even if they could prove it, the harm would almost certainly be too remote, speculative, and/or de minimis to sustain an action. I can just ignore the actual words of this clause and just concern myself with not hurting anybody and be confident that I am not doing anything wrong."
As it pertains to my rental car hypothetical, I might think, "Ok, the contract clause says 'You agree not to take the car out of the state of Texas', but their real concern is stopping me from transferring the car to Guatemalan revolutionaries or disassembling it for parts to repair an Alaskan oil pipeline. A five-mile jaunt across the state line to visit my sister in Oklahoma doesn't give rise to the harm countenanced by the clause, so doing so does not constitute a breach." I have a very strong feeling that this is dangerous legal reasoning, but am having trouble figuring out exactly why.