Why is the Grass always Greener on the Other Side?
No matter what we have - somebody else has more (or better) of it.
What I would like to explore in the following, is where that comes from and how we can find some ways out of the constant comparing with everybody else.
The hunt is sweeter than the kill. A saying we all know but rarely question.
One issue is, that our own imagination tends to be better than the actual reality. And this is for a good reason. Throughout human development, it’s always been deeply rooted in our behavior to strive for the next big thing - until we have it. However, if we would be satisfied as soon as we had something, we probably wouldn’t develop much further. And therefore it’s programmed in our genes to always follow our own visualization of a better something.
So far, no problem. Nevertheless there are two sides to our aspiration as well. On the one hand it enables us to pursue our goals, on the other hand (if we don’t somehow learn to control it), it might lead us to frustration or deep exhaustion. Because there’s always the danger of getting ourselves caught up in unrealistic goals, that we pursue for the wrong reasons (i.e. because somebody else has it.) And beyond being unattainable, it wouldn’t even make us happy to achieve those goals because they simply don’t match us.
Unfortunately, we also love to chase what we can’t have. This might sound familiar to you as you think about one of these dubious dating rules - once you make yourself rare, it says, the other person will automatically fall in love with you. But an endless chase is eventually leaving us with desire only and desire is what leaves us worn out in the end. Buddhism suggests, that the origin of all suffering is desire. So it’s wiser to focus our energy on what we have rather then what we don’t.
Another quirk I know from my own self, is that we like to pick and choose from various people in our surroundings to put our image of the perfect life together. If there are ten people around us, we only take the best attitude or possession of each of them and combine it all into the ideal image we want for ourselves. By cutting out what we don’t like, we happily ignore all the neutral or negative factors. What we don’t realize however, is that by doing so, we are creating some kind of superhuman which can only exist in our imagination. It’s like AI that aims to create the most beautiful face by combining bits and pieces of various ideals of beauty — it simply doesn’t work. Also because life is not that easy to trick and ideal for us can mean absolute horror for another person.
By focusing on what is better in others people’s lives, we unconsciously turn away from our own reality. Until it gets bad, one might indeed think that it could be a good strategy not to bother with our own life and instead focus on imagining how much better it could be if we would only… But we have to keep in mind, that following our perception of ideal (that is constructed by what others have), inevitably leads to envy, resentment and pity. And it gets worse: the more we look outside to what others have and we don’t, the more we want and the unhappier we get . And there we are, caught up in another negative spiral.
So one way out, is to start taking responsibility for our own life. First of all, this means facing the reality we’re in, even if this means realizing that we are deeply unhappy. Because realization is the first step in the journey of change.
But taking responsibility requires more than realization. It suggests some kind of action and for such we have to understand, that we alone have the power to change our life. We are grown ups and there is no mum or dad that is going to safe us. Even more, in the world we live in, we might wait a very long time until somebody takes time and effort to take care of us. For some, this can be a lifetime.
Only if we give in to the fact that life isn’t fair, we stop feeling sorry for ourselves and instead start to understand that we need to do the best we can and make the most of what we have.
And in those cases, where the grass is actually greener on the other side, we need to take life into our own hands and start moving. And there’s many great benefits that come with this.
One of the greatest benefits of taking responsibility for ourselves, is the feeling of “I did this myself”, also called self-efficacy. There is not many things that give us a stronger sense of ourselves than having the feeling that we made a conscious decision to change (something) and it actually worked out.
Taking responsibility for ourselves can mean to stop complaining to the outside and instead focusing on the inside, to understand what it exactly is, that bothers us. Is it our job that we actually hate or is it just one colleague that we secretly envy? Is it that we don’t like to leave things behind or are we deeply afraid of losing somebody we care about? Is it us questioning ourselves or the life we have created? For all issues in life, no matter how big they seem, there’s a solution out there. Remember, that every so-called problem we face, is actually only a construct of our own individual reality. Some problems are not even problems if we manage to look at them from another angle. Which is why I sometimes prefer to call them chances or challenges instead.
This also explains, why every person will handle certain situations differently.
And if you feel like you can’t manage this yourself, there’s always people, institutions or groups you can go to.
Last but not least it is our ego. We simply can’t stand not to have what other people have. The purest version of this is the famous example with kids ignoring a toy until another kid plays with it. Consumerism lifestyle has taught us, that everything we want is immediately available. Our greediness has been fed continuously over the last decades. So instead of exercising restraint, we got used to get what we want. With this in mind, we might understand how desperate someone can become, if this long-learned methodology simply doesn’t work anymore. Especially with the things that money can’t buy, as for example a happy life.
Our brain is trained to always want more, so the only cure to this is to understand the mechanisms behind our own brain. If we understand, that we will always long for more, no matter what we already have, we can find some rest and practice to be satisfied with what we can call our own. Mindfulness is a great way, as it entails the practice of gratitude and being in ease with the moment.
If this is not enough, it’s worth finding out where the root cause of this behavior lies. In my experience, it’s a deeper longing for something we didn’t get way back or a sign for some underlying unhappiness. It’s only natural to look around if we’re unhappy and believe that what we need to be satisfied is on the other side of the fence. But most often it’s more complicated than that, and on the contrary, we need to look inside us.
If we can’t stop feeling disadvantaged, we need to learn to change our perspective. If you would look at two people who live in the same circumstances, one might be completely satisfied while the other might believe nothing is enough. As so often, it all depends on the perception and our sole goal should be to alter our perceptions of what we have and what we need to be happy. Often, our perception relates to our overall worldview, our upbringing and our values. Do we believe, for example, that the world is a crucial place where no one gets anything for free, or do we believe in some higher power that will point us in the right direction? It’s this deep embedding that makes it hard to change — but still not impossible and all the more important.
Finally, there’s this counterquote I’d like to leave you with, which says that ‘the grass is greener where you water it.’ Essentially this means, that every patch needs care and that no matter where you are in life, you can get the most beautiful grass only if you take good care of it yourself.