The 21st century is the century of comfort. Technology is determined to give us everything we need and want for little money and little effort and deliver it instantly.
An unwanted side effect of this is that the very comfort we worked so hard for as a species is starting to trap us as individuals. Comfort wants to kill your dreams.
In a world of Amazon, Deliveroo, Netflix, Spotify, Airbnb, Uber, and Tinder, no one wants to do things the hard way. Why should we? Well, we should, because comfort and happiness are not the same things.
If anything, comfort often reduces how happy attaining something makes you, even if you really want the end result — the partner, the car, the promotion, the tasty meal. Half the reason that getting these things makes you happy in the first place is that you have to become someone else, taking action to reach them.
So when we’re not willing to sacrifice comfort now for greatness later, when we expect everything in life to come fast, cheap, and easy, we’re setting ourselves up for misery. We don’t have to give up all of our comforts and we can wade out of it one inch at a time, but we must leave a lot of it behind eventually.
If you’re not willing to take a walk, you’ll never run a marathon. If you’re not willing to write one sentence, you’ll never publish a book. If you’re not willing to work from a crappy cafe, you’ll never have your own office.
If you’re not willing to eat a carrot, you’ll never get used to a better diet. If you’re not willing to do one pushup, you’ll never feel strong. If you’re not willing to ask for a date, you’ll never have a loving relationship.
If you’re not willing to send out a tweet, you’ll never build things people love. If you’re not willing to save a dollar, you’ll never feel financially safe. If you’re not willing to buy a train ticket, you’ll never see the world.
Most of all, if you’re not willing to feel uncomfortable, you’ll never be happy — because discomfort is part of the formula for happiness.
You Spend All Your Time Building Castles in the Sky
When we were 20, my best friend and I would spend our Friday nights getting dressed up, going to restaurants, bars, and clubs, and talking about our great ideas or celebrating ourselves for having them.
We had hundreds of startup ideas. We saw so many problems and potential ways to solve them. Except we never did a single thing that was of actual value to anyone. We never solved a real problem for a real person, and we never turned any of our ideas into reality.
If we drove past a guy picking up trash from the street, that guy had done more for the world than we would all night. A lot of 20-somethings are like this. They’re smart. They have a lot of energy. They have new, unspoiled perspectives, and a lot of them could have real merit in solving many challenges.
What almost no 20-year-old has, however, is an understanding of and real experience in how hard it is to actually do something important that’ll make a positive difference for others. What makes them creative, bold, and unencumbered also makes them naïve, lazy, and, sometimes, outright delusional. I know I was.
Spending all your time daydreaming is just one specific variation of staying in your comfort zone, but it’s a pervasive, addictive, and hard-to-get-rid-of one.
The only cure to it is to start building. To put yourself out there and risk getting rejected, failing, and running into a wall. And you will. So many walls.
“Why doesn’t anyone care about my ideas?”
“I had no idea how hard it was to sell something.”
“Damn, I didn’t think of this before.”
The only way to see what the world really needs and how you can deliver it is to live and act in reality. It’s easy to fill your head with dreams. It’s hard to pick one of them and commit to it. To show up for it again and again and again, even when, on some days, you want nothing more than to quit.
It took me three more years of all those wasted Friday nights before I would start working on what I cared about. I’m 28 now, and although the past five years have been tough, they’ve also been the most rewarding of my life.
Be humble. Work with what you’ve got. Appreciate the journey. You’ll do better. For yourself and others. Whatever you do, start building now. Your future self will thank you for it.
You Don’t Love the Boring Days
“Everything was better back when everything was worse.” That’s a funny way of saying we miss simpler times. There are many reasons why life felt easier in the past: we had fewer responsibilities, were less aware of how little we knew, and had fewer memories to manage and assemble into one coherent picture.
But there’s another, external reason, and it has to do both with life being less comfortable and us having to work hard for our dreams: we had lower expectations. Barry Schwartz says low expectations are the secret to happiness.
As you work hard and spend a good but not too large chunk of your time feeling uncomfortable, your life will suddenly become full of pleasant surprises. You’ll learn to enjoy the boring, normal days. Instead of having high hopes and being let down all the time, explore your gratification minimum.
For me, every day when I’m not sick, stressed, or plagued by emotional drama is a good day. Every day when I can have coffee, write, and spend some time with myself is a good day. Every day when I can see the sun, get some fresh air, and talk to a friend is a good day. That’s how you win. By enjoying the little things and being even more grateful for everything good that happens on top. Live off the principal, thrive on the bonus.
If you live to be 82 years old, that’s 29,930 days. Out of those 29,930 days, 26,000 will be boring. Happiness is learning to love those days.
You Don’t Know Yourself Well Enough
Here’s a fun yet important exercise: Go look at the next mirror you can find. Grab the one from your handbag, go to a restroom, or use the front camera of your phone. Heck, even your reflection in a window will do.
Once you’ve spotted your identical twin, close your eyes and take a deep breath through your nose. Exhale and open your eyes: What do you see?
What you are seeing is something I can almost guarantee you are not usually aware of. What you are looking at right this moment is your face at rest. This is the face you wear about 99% of the time. Whenever you’re walking around, watching TV, working, looking at your phone, driving in your car, or sitting in a meeting, this is the face other people see.
What kind of face is it? Is it a happy face? A neutral face? A bored face? Do you look sad or do you smile? Do the corners of your mouth tilt up or down? Are there any dimples? Do your eyes look tired?
There are 43 muscles in the human face and an infinity of small details we can observe in it. Yet, most of the time, we walk around wearing our own, having no idea what it looks like. What kind of signals it sends.
Your face at rest is the message you send into the world. It’s your job to know what that message is and what that face looks like. And if you find out you don’t like either one of them, it’s your responsibility to change.
All it takes to start doing this important work is five minutes in front of a mirror. Get to know the person inside so its reflection in the world can spread the joy and happiness it carries.
Self-awareness is the most important skill in determining what we want and how to get it. It takes practice to develop and for that practice, we must make time. Five minutes of staring at our face won’t be enough, but it’s one heck of a start.
Previously published on Medium.com.
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