By Brad Beckstrom
I walked down a dark alley in a foreign city I’d never been to, walked up to a stranger and took this picture. Why in the world would I be wandering around a foreign city taking pictures of strangers. I do it because it’s uncomfortable. It’s a way to get out of my shell, meet people, and try to see new things.
Anything new, a major break from your normal routine, can be uncomfortable. It’s exactly this kind of discomfort that can make us happy, help us grow.
The Perfect Life?
Imagine for a second that all of your needs have been met. You don’t need to lift a finger to do anything. You’re in the perfect location, with the perfect partner, all of your physical, emotional, and financial needs have been completely taken care of. Servants bring you fresh food and drinks. No need to even get out of your beach chair.
I don’t know about you but I’ve been on vacations like this and it truly gets old after the first week or two. Even when I have plenty of good books to read, a beautiful beach, and an ocean to swim in, this thought of sitting still bores the hell out of me.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of downtime. In fact, most of my time is downtime versus the workaday world of commuters and conference calls. However, once you break free of a scheduled world, it becomes even more important to make productive use of your time.
We’ve all heard the stories of people who work their whole lives then retire and drop dead because they didn’t think about what’s next. If nothing is next, that’s what you may end up with nothing.
We are happy when we are challenging ourselves. We’re happy when we’re uncomfortable. If you’ve ever been skiing or ice-skating on a chilly day it’s that feeling of putting a warm pair of shoes on when you get in from the cold. The discomfort and the challenge of exercise and extremely cold weather leads to great feelings before during and after your adventure.
Here are some ideas and ways to bring a little discomfort into your life.
Physical and mental discomfort
I used to go to the gym three times a week because I read that in a book somewhere. I thought that was enough. As I’ve gotten older I realize I need to exercise every day. Not in a gym but by going for long hikes or bike rides daily regardless of the weather. I’ve gotten into such a routine that I actually feel more uncomfortable if I miss it. This reverse discomfort encourages me to get back at it.
In addition to walking, I now use a heavy bag, pull up bar, and a TRX suspension trainer in the basement during the week. There are days when I don’t feel like going down there. However, I’ve limited this high-intensity training regimen to 20 minutes. While it’s uncomfortable, I know it’s over in 20 minutes and I feel good when it’s completed.
Getting into any healthy kind of habit can be uncomfortable but, once you truly make a habit and feel bad when you skip it, then you’re using this discomfort in two ways.
A few years back I rediscovered an old hobby: photography. I decided I needed a challenge outside of just making interesting photographs. So, I began to learn about street photography. Street photography often involves traveling to new places and photographing complete strangers, sometimes with or without their permission.
I decided to combine street photography and travel to create a quest with a goal of publishing 10,000 photographs, from 1000 different places, in 100 different cities over a 10 year period. Once every three or four months I try to visit a city, country, or place I’ve never been to. After 5 years I am halfway to my goal with 5260 photos published.
If you’re frugal like I am, pulling out your wallet to plan travel, sometimes with my entire family in tow is a bit of a chore. Trying to make sure you’re maximizing travel discounts and credit card points to plan travel to unfamiliar destinations. You can bet, especially when I travel alone, I’m not going to be on any pre-packaged tour or staying in a four-star hotel.
I’m not going to be looking up famous restaurants or popular tourist destinations. I prefer to pick a modest hotel in a central part of the city that is optimal for walking and public transportation. Walking 8 or 10 miles a day, eating street food, taking photographs of strangers and unusual sites I stumble upon. Coming back to a hotel room where the air-conditioning may not be working 100% are all part of this experience.
As you can probably tell I’m not a natural when it comes to writing. I write about my personal experiences so I can get my thoughts down on paper and clarify my thinking. It would be easier to just sit and read a good book or enjoy someone else’s blog. On the other hand, getting up early and doing something you don’t necessarily love or are naturally talented at is a simple way to create discomfort. For some people that may be getting up in front of groups, talking to strangers, speaking up for something you believe in.
If faith and the social interactions that come with it are important to you, try asking yourself some hard questions about your faith or meet some people with very different backgrounds. Visit a completely different place of worship, go to events where you know no one, in countries where you know no one. Ask yourself hard questions about how others live differently and what you could learn from them.
According to data from the latest General Social Survey, in the United States since 1990 there has been a 50% increase in the percentage of people who say they’re unhappy. We do even worse when compared to other countries. There’s a lot of information in this report and I’m not sure anybody can say for sure what the secret is to happiness is. For some folks it may be faith, creativity, or strong relationships. We are all unique. I believe the key is to bring a little discomfort into any of these activities and see what happens.
In the end, mixing it up. taking a different, more difficult path from societal norms may not make you happier now but it will certainly give you some valuable and rewarding experiences to look back on.