From orthopedic beds and smartphones to supermarket delivery apps, we’ve really got it made. Yet, you’ll often hear people say, “I feel anxious”, “I’m depressed”, or “I’m stressed”. And it’s only getting worse. Currently, 3.4 percent of the global population is depressed, and 3.8 percent suffers from an anxiety disorder, according to Our World in Data.
Why is it that, in an era with the highest standards of living so far and absurdly easy access to fulfilling our material needs, we are feeling this way? Why are we depressed in a world with endless possibilities? Why are we feeling disconnected when we’ve never been more connected? Why are we angry, anxious, stressed, bitter, or empty when there is so much potential around us?
Perhaps it’s because we are entirely too comfortable.
We live in a time when we have been conditioned to believe that the relentless pursuit of things will make everything better. Going through a bad breakup? Retail therapy is the answer. Hate your job? Blow your paycheck on all the outings in your bursting social calendar as a means to cope. Material distractions are everywhere, promoted by marketers and influencers selling us a lifestyle we neither need nor can afford.
We’ve become bystanders in our own lives, allowing others to tell us how to live comfortably.
Concurrently, the modern world has accommodated our need for convenience with apps and services that make it entirely too easy to arrange our entire life from our seat on the couch. Is it any surprise then that we try to avoid anything that requires too much patience, pain, discomfort, or effort? We don’t want to deal with anything that’s going to be a hassle. This is why we go for pricey all-inclusive vacations. Why figure out the logistics for ourselves when someone else can do it for us? As a result, we’ve become bystanders in our own lives, allowing others to tell us how to live comfortably. Because, didn’t you hear? Comfort is synonymous with the good life.
But while we may crave the stability that comes from being within our comfort zone, our brain benefits from volatility. According to a Yale University study on cognition, we only learn when there is uncertainty – and that’s actually a good thing, especially when it comes to bad habits, as learning allows us to find remedies for maladaptive behaviors.
Similarly, Gregory Berns at Emory University of Medicine found that our core psychological needs aren’t satisfied by how comfortable we feel, but rather by novelty and challenge, he told HuffPost. This is because a plush (but also insipid) life doesn’t do anything for us internally. Only by deviating from our daily routine will we gain long-term satisfaction.
It’s true what they say: Life really does begin at the end of your comfort zone.
Malek is passionate about food. He finally decided to quit a cushy job as an investment banker on the day he was offered a promotion. He started his own local contemporary street-food eatery. After a few years, the brand has grown to include several branches. His job and his passion are now aligned and he’s never had more self-surety. Sara moved homes and ran a full marathon exactly two weeks after her divorce. She was advised by many to drop the marathon as she had too much going on in her personal life at the time. She ran it anyway, and the physical demands of training for and running the marathon led her to discover that she was, in fact, a lot stronger than she thought she was. We’ve all heard stories like these.
When we step outside of our comfort zone, amazing things happen. We gain a sense of purpose. We conquer our fears. We find meaning in an otherwise shallow existence. It’s true what they say: Life really does begin at the end of your comfort zone.
Love, Etc. is a column on love, life, and relationships by Najla Moussa.