By Brianna Wiest

We design our lives around avoiding pain. Most of what we’re taught to believe are the markings of success represent “safety.” Monogamy, home ownership, a life-long career.

The problem is that we’re trying to seek certainty in a world in which the only constant is change, in bodies that were built to evolve, in people whose lives are finite, in physical things that come and go, are lost and broken, almost unpredictably.

We don’t want happiness, we want comfort. And because we can’t tell the difference between “good” or “bad,” only “comfortable” and “uncomfortable,” familiar discomfort feels the same as comfort does. (Most criminals aren’t maliciously intentional, they’re doing it for a ‘greater good,’ aka, what’s most comfortable to them.)

So we seek what we claim to not want, over and over again.

When you open yourself up to feeling good, you do so in equal proportion to feeling bad. You can’t only choose to feel one thing, you can only choose how much you feel altogether. Opening yourself to one emotion makes you vulnerable to that much intensity across the board.

We want comfort because we want to know it’s safe to feel. We want to eliminate the risk of being devastated by the things we want not working out, so we put our emotional lives on hold until it’s safe, until we’re sure.

This is why people break down when they get what it is they want. Their dreams didn’t bring them the happiness they opened their emotional portals to receive, and instead, whatever was buried beneath the surface finally came back up.

It’s why we try to figure out what’s “meant to be” more than we try and see what works. We desire our “soul mates,” our “dream jobs,” our passions, our cosmic, existential “truths” that will let us feel happiness, because in our minds, they are definitives.

But we don’t start feeling just because we get one of them. That’s why we’re always seeking more. We’re waiting for security, which is the only thing we’ll never truly have.

There are two mindsets that people tend to embody: the “explorer” and the “settler.” 

The core tenant of the “settler” mindset is that life is about reaching the “end goal,” at which point it’s safe to let yourself feel. Most of our society is built around the “settler” mindset, which is why the tenets of an objectively “good life” rarely make us feel… well… good.

Our houses are rentals. Our bodies are, too. You can lose the love of your life. Banks can collapse and the “trust system” on which we (frighteningly) operate with our money can collapse as well. Houses can burn down. You could die next month.

The people who know this are the people who have “explorer” mindsets. They are the ones who know that we’re here to have many relationships, all of which teach us and show us something new. They see life as a kind of vacation, jobs as temporary assignments. They know that no physical, external thing is permanent or definitively ours, and getting attached to it only sets us up to suffer.

It is in this knowing that they can truly thrive in the way seeking comfort and safety in the “settler” mindset aspires to. They can be present in their relationships because they know love isn’t something you can save up for a rainy day. They can do their jobs well because they know they can’t do them forever. They enjoy their lives because they’re not concerned with perfect certainty, but in experiencing whatever the tide brings up.

True safety is in knowing that even if you lose all of your money, you can get back up the next day and make some more. Even if you lose the love of your life, you can be grateful to have had them in the first place. Even if the whole world goes up in flames, you’ll be there to help pull people out of the fire, because you’re not consumed with trying to save what’s not yours anyway.

Life is not about comfort. It’s not about ‘settling’ anywhere either. It’s about growth. Growth is the only sure thing. Change is, too. To be an explorer is to find your comfort in knowing this, not fighting it. 

The comfort and assuredness we are seeking is not in other things, it’s in ourselves. We want relationships to affirm that we’re worthwhile, money to affirm that we’re safe, things to prove we’re “home.” None of those things can actually give us what we want from them, which is why they’re never enough.

Image: Jay Mantri

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