The idea that one can find happiness through a reduction of comfort and an increase in struggle may seem strange, but let me try to explain this idea.

One of the most common life goals I have heard is “to be happy”. While I am not quite sure what this means, I do recognize that it is a legitimate goal and, given that so many people have it, I am always amazed by how little we know about how to achieve a happy life in modern times.

And yet, this is not a new question.

The pursuit of happiness and the search for the meaning of life are likely among the first philosophical questions asked, so it is even more surprising that we have not yet found definite answers.

However, I will leave a more philosophical examination of this issue for a future essay and instead focus on my personal experiences.

Why a comfortable life is unrealistic

It is common for people to try to maximize happiness by maximizing comfort. By the term “comfort” I mean the removal of stressors, which means avoiding stress, doing as little work as possible, and avoiding pain, struggle, and physical activity.

While it’s understandable that we value comfort, it’s important to recognize that embracing discomfort and struggle can sometimes be a better choice, even if it doesn’t seem like it at first.

Aiming for a completely comfortable life might be a valid option in a Utopia, where everything is perfect, but the reality is, that nobody can sustain a consistently comfortable existence.

Life can be tough and some people, like Jordan Peterson, go even further and argue that living is equivalent to suffering. While I wouldn’t go that far, it is just realistic to acknowledge, that life can be quite shitty.

Consider a scenario where everything goes wrong in a short period of time: a migraine on Monday, a 2-hour delay on your commute to work on Tuesday that causes you to miss an important meeting, and on Wednesday, you lose your job due to a recession and can’t even afford nice bread due to high inflation. And let’s not even mention the shoulder pain that’s been bothering you for months.

Yeah I know, this might sound like a far-stretched scenario, but based on my observations (in my very narrow world to be honest) a milder version will probably hit many people during their life. We cannot expect to go through life without any problems.

If there is one guaranteed thing, then it is that there will be some kind of struggle to go through. You might think that you are one of the lucky ones because everything turned out well until now, but then you are failing to accept the truth. A few sufferings are guaranteed: losing loved ones, seeing your health decline as you age, losing your job, and getting sick.

Wow, this part turned out grimmer than I thought it would, but bear with me a little longer, because it doesn’t need to be so bad.

Struggle to prepare for life

So now we hopefully agree on the premise that life is hard and suffering is inevitable. But how do we handle this?

The best thing is to embrace struggle and the harsh reality. Once we stop running from problems and see them as a chance to grow, they stop being such a burden. It’s important to learn how to face difficult situations head-on and find ways to cope with them.

Exposing oneself to struggle will make it easier, once the really hard problems arise.

This is mostly due to the fact that stressors (meaning struggles and problems) strengthen us. To better understand why struggle makes us stronger, I must first explain the concept of antifragility (but only briefly, because there will be a dedicated essay on this topic).

The concept of Antifragility

The term antifragility was coined by Nassim Taleb in his Book [[Antifragile]]. The main idea behind antifragility is that some things benefit from shocks and stress. Antifragile systems gain something from being exposed to volatility, stressors, and randomness.

You can imagine an antifragile system as the opposite of a fragile system and something even better than a robust system.

Fragile things break under stress. If I put a heavy weight on an egg it will most likely break due to the stress.

Robust things are resistant to stress. If I throw something at a house it most likely won’t break, because it is robust to (most) stressors.

An antifragile system is something like your body. Every time you work out you expose your muscles and your body to short-term stress, but this will make you stronger and lead to other health benefits in the long term.

By voluntarily exposing ourselves to an uncomfortable situation, we often experience some kind of positive stress and benefit in the long term.

Stressing oneself by working out might be uncomfortable at the moment, but will make you stronger, healthier, and probably even happier in the long term. Or sitting down and writing might be harder than turning on Netflix and mindlessly indulging in some shallow entertainment but will be more rewarding in the long term.

So how do struggle and Antifragility lead to a more fulfilled life? Through struggle, we grow as a person and we feel more confident by facing and overcoming challenges. This, in turn, leads to a fulfilled self, because believing in oneself leads to even more challenges and thereby more competence, which in the end leads to a perpetual cycle upwards of competence, fulfillment, and happiness.

Struggle prepares one for the problems ahead

We quickly get accustomed to circumstances. Being mostly pain-free will make those moments in which we do experience pain far worse than being accustomed to pain. That is what happens if we take painkillers for every little headache. It has been shown that this can lead to a stronger pain perceived, even if it isn’t actually stronger.

This might sound cynical. To struggle and endure problems just to make them feel not as bad once they happen. But as I mentioned, it is just unrealistic to expect to never suffer in life, so I would rather embrace problems and be more prepared once they hit.

But something honest must be said here: This is easier said than done and only possible to a certain degree. There are a few things in life that will hit you hard, no matter how resilient you are. Losing a loved one will always be unbelievably hard and all the rational talk of “being sad doesn’t change anything” or dealing stoically with this is just stupid. But being prepared to struggle will help in most everyday situations.

Furthermore, there are many everyday situations that are still uncomfortable for most people which can be turned into happy moments.

Let’s take the daily “annoying” stuff like a train being late. You could either sit at your gate and be annoyed for two hours straight, ruining the rest of the day. A great alternative would be to always have a book with you that you want to read anyways and barely find time to read it. Now you can sit back and be happy that you finally have time to enjoy some time to read. Because let’s be honest, if this train is your only way to get to your destination then being annoyed for two hours won’t change anything, and why not use the time in a nicer way?

But what if I need to be on time for an important meeting and I just cannot relax while waiting, because the meeting is too damn important to miss? Great question! This leads us to the next point.

Remove most unnecessary stress

There is a difference between positive, voluntary stress and chronic, unnecessary stress. As I mentioned earlier, we grow through positive stress. Working out, enduring cold or heat, or just pushing oneself to create something makes us stronger and more resilient.

But problems arise if the stress is too much or chronic. Being in a work environment where you feel that you could get fired for missing a meeting because your train was late is definitely too much stress without any positive benefit. And enduring this stress every morning on your commute will lead to long-term health problems.

So the solution here might sound obvious, but I still feel like too few people actually sit down and think through which chronic stressors could get removed.

Half of the commute time could get entirely eliminated if you can get a hybrid working model and get allowed to work from home two or three days per week.

And if you have to take the train then schedule enough time in case your train is late. You might get to work too early on most days, but then you can use the time to read outside or take a walk or start working earlier and get home earlier.

Or even better if you have the option to take the bike, then do this, because that is healthier anyway and less prone to being late.

Life is harsh, but that is good

I hope that I could convince you even a little that problems and struggles are not always bad, and most often actually great for you.

Because life is complicated and no matter how much we try to avoid pain, problems, or hard circumstances, they will eventually come around and they will hit hard if we are not used to problems.

Embracing short- to mid-term struggles like working out or starting a project that pushes you to your limits will make you stronger and leave you more prepared for most bad situations. This will make you more capable of handling most problems.

Working out is probably the most important good stressor. Not only does it make you stronger, but it also improves everyday life experience greatly. Feeling less sluggish and more energetic is a nice side effect.

And while most struggle is good, we can try to turn unpleasant stressors into good situations. Using the time when your train is late to read, or seeing an opportunity to try out something new if your favorite restaurant is closed are just very easy examples of how we don’t have to let small annoyances ruin our day.

And last but least we should try to remove unnecessary stressors entirely. Taking a bike instead of the bus, working from home sometimes if we get the chance, and just living healthy to reduce the likelihood of most diseases are easy ways to improve our long-term live quality.