As I reflect on the past year, I’ve started to see a trend among the things that I look back on most fondly. In life, I optimize for happiness above anything else, and I’ve found that this year the things that made me the most happy were prefaced by discomfort.

In the middle of the winter, I went for my first run in years. I ran 4.5 km in the dunes during the rain, in shoes that weren’t really made for running. Despite blisters on my feet, I felt proud and relieved. That same weekend, I woke up early to walk to the beach while it was about 6℃ (42,8 ℉) outside to take a cold plunge in the sea. I’ve done cold plunges before, but not in near-freezing sea water with heavy winds and waves. The whole way there I thought I was crazy for doing it, and that it was going to suck.

It did. But I’m so glad I did it.

I controlled my breathing, calmed my mind and sat in the rushing waves and cold until I couldn’t feel my feet anymore. When I got out, I felt a rush of reward hormones for having “survived” the cold. A few minutes of intense discomfort was followed by a whole day of feeling extremely good and having laser sharp focus—a fair trade if you ask me.

During the year, I’ve had more difficult things on my plate. From dealing with the passing of a loved family member to facing potential rejection and the challenge of pitching my vision to others during fundraising. I’ve had to have some difficult conversations this year which required emotional vulnerability. In the end however, because of these conversations, any underlying problems were addressed and I’ve felt less stressed because of it.

For some, the fear of discomfort prevents them from making progress. It’s not an easy thing to embrace, yet the rewards can be life-changing. Going into next year, I choose to experience discomfort versus avoiding it.

Now, I understand everyone defines their ‘comfort zone’ differently. It starts there. Working out, diving into the cold sea or going for a challenging hike up a mountain, for example, are not just activities, but rather symbolic acts to push your boundaries and embrace the uncomfortable moments.

Adversity may shape your happiness in ways you can’t even consider now; seek discomfort.

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