Choosing Uncertainty Over Unhappiness

I came across a quote recently that really stuck with me, and got me thinking a lot.

“Most people will choose unhappiness over uncertainty.”

The idea that the comfort of certainty keeps us stuck, prevents us from moving forward, is an unsettling, yet familiar, concept. We do tend to stick with what’s familiar, whether it’s being stuck in an unfulfilling job, struggling with mental health, or even something as simple as being stuck in a boring routine. These things drain us of our happiness, yet we allow ourselves to get stuck because the unknown is scary.

Working towards a happier life requires change. Change breeds uncertainty. Uncertainty is uncomfortable. Maybe you’d be happier at a new job, but a new job brings with it so many “what if’s”. But if your job now is unfulfilling, you still know what to expect. It’s safe. Change means leaving that relative safety.

We’re hardwired to value safety, to take comfort in the known, and fear the unknown. It’s part of our survival instincts. But now, in our modern lives, these instincts can often be detrimental. Logically, we may know the differences in lethality between getting mauled by a tiger and starting a new job, but our silly monkey brains have a more challenging time making the distinction.

The good news is, just like with anxiety disorder, this way of thinking can be changed through reframing and exposure:

  1. Reframe: Instead of worrying about the unknowns, focus on the opportunities. Get excited about the possibilities you’ll open yourself up to.
  2. Take Baby Steps: Big change can be scary, so take some time to practice. Maybe change up something small in your routine. Instead of watching TV after dinner, start a craft project. Take another route to work in the morning. Do whatever is slightly uncomfortable, and work your way up.
  3. Just Do It: You’ve been reframing your thoughts, and making little changes to your daily life. That’s all great, but eventually, you have to take the plunge. Commit to taking the first step, whatever that step is, and when you succeed take the next step, and the next, and the next…

So, for example, you want to get out of your unfulfilling job. Instead of worrying about the unknowns—having to learn a new position, get to know new people, etc.—focus on all the opportunities you’ll have to grow, to be fulfilled, and maybe even earn more money! Give yourself things to look forward to in a new job!

Then, take that first step and start applying to jobs. Just focus on that first step, commit to that, and leave yourself open to taking the next step. When you get an interview, focus on that and don’t think about the “what if’s”. Take each step without worrying about the next, and before you know it you’ll be out of steps, and you’ll think to yourself, “Wow, that wasn’t too bad!”

We all deserve happiness, but our fear of change and the unknown can often be the biggest obstacle in our pursuit of that happiness.

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