The Comfortable Misery Syndrome: Why People Choose Misery Over Change

 Thomas Oppong,
June 16th, 2020

Misery is comfortable — it’s why so many people prefer it. Happiness takes effort and courage. People find it hard to let go of things that make them miserable because they also make them comfortable — even though they think happiness is on the other side of their misery.

In an interview with Outside Magazine, Dean Karnazes (The Ultramarathon Man and Author of ‘Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All Night Runner’, made a profound statement:

Western culture has things a little backwards right now. We think that if we had every comfort available to us, we’d be happy. We equate comfort with happiness. And now we’re so comfortable we’re miserable. There’s no struggle in our lives. No sense of adventure.”

Humans naturally pursue pleasure and seek to avoid pain but at some point, most people get comfortable in their misery even when they have a way out to get better and improve their circumstances. They lose their sense of adventure. Everything else becomes too risky.

Others have become comfortable in their misery because it’s familiar and they know what to expect from their current mindset.

If everything is too good, you’re probably stuck not being awesome.

Here are familiar stories you’ve heard before:

I hate my job, but I love the salary, I don’t like what I do, but I know I’m good at it, I don’t like what I do, but the chances of finding a job I will truly enjoy are slim and none and changing careers is much more riskier so I stick to what I have.

People sometimes spend many years living in ‘comfortable misery” — they are unhappy with their careers and lives, BUT things are not too bad to risk doing something about it.

The fear of change holds them back. The simple fear that things could end up worse keeps them in their misery.

Many people can’t find a reason to step outside their safe bubble, but they complain they are miserable.

Why do people choose misery over growth/fulfilment/meaning?

At some point in life, most people’s need for self-preservation becomes too strong that they won’t choose anything else that can guarantee a better life.

We all resist change at some level in life but crave a different life at the same time. Resistance keeps us away from having new experiences.

People suffering from comfortable misery run efficiently on autopilot without stopping to think about other experiences outside the usual safe cycle they’ve built for themselves.

They go through the motions of completing their to-do lists, projects, tasks, the same routines at home while experiencing little joy, learning, or feeling of genuine satisfaction.

Comfortable misery is a steady process that becomes more and more intense over time. It may even cause emotional distress and depression. It can even make you more judgmental and less likely to want to be in the company of others.

Book Healing Depression the Mind-Body Way: Creating Happiness with Meditation, Yoga, and Ayurveda

Breaking Out of ‘Comfortable Misery’

You can wait until your current situation becomes a crisis, and you are compelled to act or slowly embrace change/risk that you can control and manage. You can take responsibility and plan your action.

Dan Miller encourages us to seek new experiences and opportunities:

“Don’t settle for comfortable misery, a sad state where you’re hanging on to what is most predictable and familiar at the risk of letting exciting opportunities pass you by.”

Here’s what’s worth considering: How hard (and how often) are you willing to work to get out of your comfortable misery?

You’re not stuck.

You can uncomfortably step out of the slow burn, embrace some level of risk and slowly step into a new opportunity — a new possibility.

Don’t’ choose to be comfortably miserable. Choose to take a chance, take action and move in the direction of fulfilment. It may be temporarily unpleasant or uncomfortable as you change but life can get much better.

Dr Elizabeth Lombardo, Psychologist and author of “Better Than Perfect, says people who regularly seek out fresh experiences tend to be more creative and emotionally resilient than those who are stuck in a very predictable space.

“Breaking your own mold can only make you stronger and more confident to reach higher levels in your professional and personal life,” she says.

When you are challenged or embrace discomfort, you are asked to become more than you were — that means creating new perspectives, acquiring new skills, creating better experiences and improving your craft.

Look around. What are your choices? What can you do? You don’t have to make a huge leap. Example, if you want to learn a new skill, find the tools, courses, videos, webinars and presentations and schedule a half an hour or even an hour on your calendar for personal growth every week.

The change will be slow but incremental. It may be uncomfortable but necessary for your growth and long-term success.

T. Harv Eker, an author, businessman and motivational speaker known for his theories on wealth and motivation once said:

“Nobody ever died of discomfort, yet living in the name of comfort has killed more ideas, more opportunities, more actions, and more growth than everything else combined. Comfort kills!”.

When you choose to change, be practical and realistic about your choices, resources and possible outcomes. Anticipate what might go wrong and be prepared for it.

BUT be optimistic and hold on to the expectation that things will improve.

New and different action is the best remedy for comfortable misery. Remember: you alone have the power to change what’s not working. And when you do change, you only have your misery to lose.

About The Author

Thomas Oppong

Founder @AllTopStartups | Contributor at Business Insider. I share tools for wealth, health and happiness at https://postanly.substack.com

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