The famous author Franz Kafka said “It is often safer to be in chains than to be free”. That is a strange statement at first glance; but if we think about it, it may not be so strange. This comment addresses the phenomenon called Comfortable Misery. You may, or may not have encountered the term but many of us at one time or another have experienced Comfortable Misery.
So what is Comfortable Misery? It sounds like a contradiction, a paradox, something that couldn’t possibly exist. Comfort implies a state of ease or the absence of hardship. Misery, on the other hand, implies difficulties, suffering and distress. What Comfortable Misery means is that we find ourselves in some sort of distasteful situation, some sort of ongoing distress that often has crept up on us ever so slowly over time, and we find ourselves tolerating it, coping with it, and allowing it to keep on making us miserable.
When we see this phenomenon in others or recognize it in ourselves we might wonder why we don’t fix it by making some change to feel less, or no, misery. In reality we often don’t do anything about it. We find ourselves accepting some moderate level of comfort in doing the same thing repeatedly and allow the same set of stressful circumstances to persist. In a strange way we become Comfortably Miserable! Why?!
Why does one continue with the discomfort, the misery? The answer to this question is a bit complicated.
One explanation is that the comfortable misery may be perceived as being better than the situation that existed before it. Making a change is difficult. Fear of the unknown is a common barrier to moving forward, growing. What if the change we make turns out to be worse than what we already have? Stephen Covey, the author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, said “we must be careful that the ladder of success we are climbing is not leaning against the wrong wall”. This might make us think twice about attempting to make a change for the better.
Another answer to why we resist breaking out of the comfortable misery is that it takes effort and time to make a change for better, especially if it seems risky. And it’s true, there may be some risk involved. But what if the change is a good change? If the change is well thought out and is the healthiest and least risky, there is a good chance you can get unstuck, free from that nagging “Comfortable Misery”.
The solution to reduce or eliminate the Misery and enhance the Comfort is to make a change; and Good Change is Good. How do we know what is a Good Change? We will know it when we put some good thought, effort, and time into figuring out what would be the best change we could make under the given circumstances. Once the change is made and practiced, it is very likely that more comfort and less misery will prevail.