miles whitfield

Student Speaker Series: Miles Whitfield on "Comfort Kills"

The Ensworth Student Speaker Series provides students with the opportunity to share a story, express a passion, or bring attention to a cause. Miles Whitfield '25 spoke in front of Grades 9–12 on the topic of "Comfort Kills."

Comfort Kills by Miles Whitfield

In the 1999 movie Fight Club, the antagonist Tyler Durden says, "We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War's a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives." Throughout human history, we have dealt with a colossal number of hardships. We've gone through times where we've had to hunt and gather in order to eat, we've dealt with mass disease, we've experienced famine, we've been through two world wars. But as we've advanced and become more civilized, we've had to deal with fewer major hardships. And I think it's fair to say life, at least in the West, has become physically easier. We have the most advanced food pipeline ever, cures for more major diseases than ever, and we in the U.S. haven't had a military draft in over 50 years. Every major indicator of an advancing civilization has improved except for one: human life satisfaction. So why are so many people dissatisfied with life even though technology has made life significantly easier? 
The answer is comfort. As we have become more comfortable, thanks to advances in technology, we have actually begun to lack purpose within each of our lives. If you look at psychologist Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, you can see that near the bottom, there are things like food, water, and shelter, then we see things like health and employment, the more basic needs. But because now more than ever, we have our most basic needs fulfilled, we now focus on things like "a sense of connection" or "achievement," things that have become increasingly harder to obtain in the modern age. As a whole, the rise in comfort has led to a crisis of purposelessness. In this context, purpose is generally defined as "a goal bigger than in one's self" or "the overall meaning and significance of one's life." Purpose also happens to be one of the single biggest indicators of happiness. According to a Gallup Poll taken in May of last year, depression rates have risen from 10% in 2015 to a surprising 18% as of 2023. More than ever, people are unable to find a reason to wake up in the morning. Many people feel that the world around them will remain the same regardless of whether they are in it. Some have fallen into postmodernism or nihilism, where they feel as if the truths in life are either impossible to find or completely nonexistent altogether. 
In our modern world, technology has made it extremely easy to take the path of least resistance. Rises in consumerism and conformity have led to mass derealization, a detachment from one's environment. Think about the movie American Psycho; for example, the protagonist, Patrick Bateman, becomes alienated from his status-obsessed corporate world and snaps. Our lives seem to follow a similar blueprint: high school turns to university and self-despising jobs. Instead of making life improvements to find happiness, it's now possible to achieve immediate happiness with instant gratification through outlets like social media, the internet, and junk food. However, the issue with achieving happiness through these means is that, in the long run, they actually make your life worse. Essentially, people are choosing long-term harm to satisfy short-term needs. In other words, people pursue pleasure over purpose and happiness over fulfillment. Happiness is defined as a short-term emotional state, while fulfillment is a deeper, more lasting sense of satisfaction and purpose. We, as humans, often think that our life goal is to be happy, while in reality, it's completely impossible to be happy all the time - it's simply an emotion. Instead, it's more beneficial to seek fulfillment. And this brings me to my point: in a society where essential needs are easier than ever to obtain, it's very easy to get stuck in a comfort zone. 
In order to truly feel fulfilled, one must work to escape their comfort zone. In the past, in order to eat, you were forced to leave your comfort zone to obtain food. Now, it is possible to essentially navigate your entire life, seldomly leaving your comfort zone. When we are consumed by comfort and don't have to work as hard on a daily basis, it's virtually impossible to feel truly fulfilled, leading to an unprecedented number of people feeling dissatisfied with life. The human race thrives off of progress. Each day, it's crucial to push yourself to make progress inside each of our realities. Falling into the trap of comfort is one of the most dangerous things someone can do. 

While shedding light on this issue is highly important, I think it's more important to understand the solution. That solution is actually more simple than you might think: "Seek the uncomfortable." Every single day, choose to do things that are difficult in order to feel more accomplished. For example, we don't feel as accomplished watching TV for 10 minutes as going for a 10-minute run. Seeking discomfort is absolutely crucial. Start by doing simple things like taking a cold shower, exercising, waking up earlier, interacting with people you don't normally interact with - or, as a whole, doing things outside your typical comfort zone. It won't be overnight, but over time, you will start to feel a greater sense of fulfillment. Doing difficult things on your own will also make life's challenges seem significantly more manageable. Stop relying on shortcuts and instant gratification to feel satisfied, start participating in activities that involve delayed gratification, and start making life better for your future self, not worse. Find your purpose, whatever that means to you. We like to feel that the world needs us and start doing things for the people and space around us. You can also find purpose through things like religion or the belief in a higher power. You can find purpose through joining a group, volunteering, or spending time with friends and family. By implementing these habits into your life, you can start to gain a greater sense of fulfillment. It's crucial to start doing the uncomfortable things. It's crucial to understand that to live an accomplished life, you must be willing to make sacrifices. Discomfort is key.

So now that we know some practical solutions, how do we move forward? First, recognize that it's always important to take inventory of your mental health. It's also important to take time to find and understand your purpose. Start slowly integrating new ways to make yourself uncomfortable. Start living with integrity. Always stick to your word. Know that there are better options than the easy option. Lastly, start being comfortable with being uncomfortable and sleep better fulfilled.

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