I learned the term comfortable misery from Oprah Winfrey about 25 years ago. She said that so many of us choose to live in comfortable misery rather than seeking to find uncomfortable joy. Never in my life had I ever imagined that misery was a source of comfort and yet when I looked at my life, I was living patterns I did not like and was terrified to change them because I did not know what that might look like. I later learned that our brains will always search for what feels like home. Home, a word that for many conjures up thoughts of fresh baking, parents eager to provide hugs, oversized sweaters in the back yard watching the leaves change. Unfortunately for far too many others this word and the feelings attached to it can equals a sense of chaos.
Homeostasis is a way that our body systems function through finding a steady state. Ideally this is calmness, but rarely in this society is it represented this way. Our brains are like data entry systems. They only know what gets inputted and unfortunately there is no filter for unhealthy or healthy behaviours or systems. This means that if you grew up in an unsteady environment with inconsistent caregiving or high expectations, chaos may feel like the norm and you may be drawn to it. Sometimes this can show up in seeking jobs with a lot of adrenaline, high risk sports, or complicated or unhealthy relationships.
If you were to take a good look at your life, what would you say your homeostasis is? Would you be able to say that you find peace and calm on a regular basis? That you exercise consistently for the mental and physical benefits and enjoyment only and not as a place of escape or to calm your nervous system? Are your friendships healthy, conflict is dealt with respectfully and when you leave your friends or partner do you feel good about yourself and at peace? What is your work situation like? Are you overworked, putting out more energy than you have? Do you feel beyond drained at the end of every day? If your answers lean towards misery and yet you have an odd comfort in it, because it is what you know or what you feel you have to do I would encourage you to consider the following: How would you like your life to be different? What would your world look like if you chose discomfort in order to experience more joy?
Do one thing every day that allows you to lean into discomfort. This might be saying no to someone when your comfort level encourages you to always say yes, even when you do not want to. It could be trying a new sport or a new group exercise class. You could cook something new and different for dinner, call that person you just met who wants to meet for coffee, or try an art class you have been observing from a distance. Take a breath and think about times in your life you were so afraid to do something you knew you really wanted to. Then remember how it turned out in the end. More often than not when we push ourselves out of that comfort zone amazing things can happen, and we find that uncomfortable joy.
The content provided in this article is for information purposes only. It is not meant as a substitute for professional medical or psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you find yourself in distress, please reach out to your local physician who can provide mental health resources in your community.