The Grass is Always Greener. Not.

Call it Waiting for the Next Great Thing. Call it Neighbor Envy, Sibling Envy, Secret Best Friend Resentment. Call it Commitment Phobia if you prefer – especially if you’re projecting it onto someone you love, who’s holding back emotions and words you crave.

Some call it “The Grass is Always Greener Syndrome.”

Whatever you call it – the belief that something better will come along may mean you’re only halfheartedly pursuing relationships of all sorts: the current boyfriend, girlfriend, or spouse; the latest job; the place you call home – temporarily.

When you believe the grass is always greener – that someone else has it better, and if only you could have what they have you’d be happy – you’re deceiving yourself. Simply put, you’re looking in the wrong direction when it comes to wrestling disenchantment, dissatisfaction, and disappointment.

You may have valid reasons, specific reasons. You may use your envy as motivation – to put in extra hours to finish that dissertation, and open new career doors as a result; envy of your friend’s smooth sailing second marriage, encouraging you to initiate discussions with your own partner so you both stop picking fights.

When Nothing Is Enough – Especially in Marriage

But living with a “grass is always greener” attitude gets you nowhere. Especially in a relationship, including marriage in which details accumulate, resentments build, and every other option seems shinier and more appealing.

This same sense that nothing is enough seeps into every aspect of American culture like a deeply ingrained habit. We are rarely satisfied, in a society that tells us we’re never enough, and we don’t “have” enough.

The examples are commonplace: seeking more excitement in our sex lives, wearying of marriage after a few years, jumping in and out of careers, looking to relocate, looking outward – always looking outward – as a means to quell a restless “something” we can’t put a finger on.

And if we’re not married? Let’s not forget online dating! It depends on this very tendency and exacerbates our less than productive behaviors as we peruse online profiles – not to mention, consume our latest media advice. Don’t we perceive an abundance of options, and return to the well over and over? Hasn’t “Why settle?” become part of pop culture parlance? After all, isn’t someone better just around the next corner?

But what if the grass isn’t greener – only different – and sometimes, not even that?

Big Car, Big House, Big Boobs, Big Rock… Big Nothing?

I never wanted a big car or a fancy one; to me, it’s a worry, an expense, and my preference is to put my disposable income elsewhere.

I never wanted a big house, just a big enough house. But for some people, there is no such thing – yes, I’m referring to those still constructing the Big House on my little street of bungalows and cottages – more than a year later.

Bigger boobs? Never on my agenda. Splashy diamond for my finger when I got engaged? Not that, either.

And when it comes to people in my life, I never sought the Perfect Man. Not only did I not believe he exists (um, Common Sense?), but who wants to wear the impossible mantel of his expectations of the Perfect Woman?

Pas moi. Though in my own way, in my own marriage, I tried.

Grass is Always Greener Syndrome? Not Exactly

Psychology Today addresses this issue of believing that something better is out there – a better man or woman, a better job, a better life – pointing out:

… many troubles of the mind involve turning away from reality by being preoccupied with the search for another life, a different life, perhaps a better life somewhere else.

The article goes on to suggest that by seeking solutions outside of ourselves without examining the actual lives we lead, we avoid the real work. We reduce the possibility of addressing what ails us.

We haul our heavy baggage with us, still believing the grass is greener on the other side.

Isn’t this true in the way we jump in and out of relationships, failing to allow sufficient time to see our part in their demise? Certain that something better is waiting, and naturally, we “deserve” it?

Our Search for Happiness

I suppose we could point the finger at the usual suspects: narcissistic society, a seemingly unending economic malaise, our impression of impermanence, the crazy-making pace at which we pursue our lives.

We turn to a plethora of feel-good products and services (and medications?) – convinced we can be more beautiful, more calm, more loving, more successful. After all, we deserve something better. We deserve our happiness.

Our insistence on a glorified view of happiness? We seem to be increasingly intent on regarding happiness as an entitlement as well as a destination. Are these the symptoms of our deep isolation in an uncaring culture? A matter of fear in a post 9/11 world? Were we headed in this direction anyway? Hasn’t envy been around since, well… forever?

Envy, Values, Human Nature

If envy is part of human nature, then somehow we’ve super-sized it. What I see, without fully understanding how or why, much less how to correct it?

An ebbing away of basics that once-upon-a-time encouraged us to feel valuable: self-esteem, integrity, honoring our commitments, pride in our accomplishments.

Hey, I want to be “happy” as much as the next guy. But I don’t consider it a destination, and I don’t believe it’s my entitlement. I revel in the moments of joy and satisfaction that come my way, partially of my creation and often not, and my greatest pleasures are frequently simple and spontaneous in their sources.

As for envy, I see it as a very human distraction, a smokescreen, a potentially dangerous diversion. But if examined, envy may highlight what we’re genuinely missing, and help us change direction for the better.

Identifying Why the Grass Seems Greener

Recently, I relived the feeling of envy I once felt for a neighbor with one child, a husband who helped, and money to afford domestic assistance for the more mundane household and parenting tasks. I didn’t want her life, but my envy clearly identified the contrast between her world and my own: her husband was more present in their family life, more engaged with their child, she seemed more relaxed and able to enjoy everything than I was.

In probing the reasons for my envy, I saw the imbalance in my marriage. I sought to redress it, to fix it in my then Here and Now.

While that wasn’t possible, I still believe that when we look inward, change for the better is potentially within our power – with work, cooperation, and possibly luck.

  • Are you in a perpetual waiting state for “something better” to come along – a job, a partner, an opportunity you can’t quite articulate?
  • When you feel envy, do you know why? Can you identify changes in yourself to improve the situation?
  • Do you still believe in the Fairy Tale Relationship, the Perfect Home, the More Beautiful You, the Next Great Thing?


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  1. says

    If the grass is greener, you can bet the water bill is higher. :-)

    I agree, our culture is always pushing towards wanting something “better.” After all, where’s the fun in being satisfied with your life? I find it ironic when some people complain about their lives, yet masquerade on social media sites that everything is “perfect.” Nothing in this life is perfect! Envy is such a destructive force, yet when harnessed, it can be very self-revealing. The question is what constructive thing we will do with that information.

  2. says

    Lisa’s first line made me laugh. :)

    I probably suffer from Grass-Is-Greener syndrome as much as anybody. I don’t care much about big cars, big houses, or big boobs, but I often find myself wishing for better restaurants and more cultural outlets in my little town. So I’m grateful for your reminder that different doesn’t always mean better and to look for ways to find change within rather than without – because, as Lisa points out, you never know what bad is going to come with the perceived good.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      That is a great line, isn’t it?

      As for your comment, Kristen, it reminds us that it’s often about trade-offs, and appreciating the options we do have.

  3. says

    I think contentment is the most illusive desire, and by far the most fundamental. If you can’t find a way to be happy with what you have, who you are…will happiness ever be possible. The anxiety comes from being discontent with what you have while longing for something you don’t have, aren’t, etc. You end up no where…just unhappy.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Contentment is a tough one, Kristine. It doesn’t preclude ambition or achievement. I think people sometimes confuse these traits and emotions, not to mention the value systems they’re related to.

  4. says

    One of the things I like about Britain is that there are folks here who understand the concept of having ‘enough’. I admit that I didn’t get it right away, but when I woke up to the idea I really loved it. I think envy is useful in helping us identify what it is we really want, but so much of it is a real waste of time and energy. I hope I’ll keep on working on improving my character, but aside from that all the bigger-better-faster-whatever is pretty much off of my radar.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      I’m so glad you joined in on this subject, Shelley. As an American expat, you would see the differences and have traveled the “journey” of appreciating them. I only wish more people here would kick the habit when it comes to the “bigger-better-faster-whatever” as you say.

  5. says

    This comparing, it’s the heart of it. If comparing is indulged, everything goes down the drain. It takes discipline not to do it, sometimes excruciating mindfulness. I love the camera at the Academy Awards, when it focuses on the losers for Best Actor and Actress the moment the winner is announced. You see a person who has everything become the most miserable human being imaginable.

  6. says

    I definitely feel much less envy now, now that I’m in my 40s and have a family that I love and a lifestyle that I have chosen. Occasionally I feel a twang of something, as I know most friends are much more well off financially (think Wall Street and Silicon Valley) but at the root of that envy is worry if we’ve got enough for college, retirement, etc…it’s more envy of financial security than anything else, since I also know about the family sacrifices involved when a friend’s husband works 80 hours/week outside the home. We have a simpler life but a lot of intimacy. It’s hard to have it all and it all depends on what you’re willing and unwilling to sacrifice. Same with family size; I used to envy friends with multiple children until I realized we chose to have one child for a reason. As long as I remember why I’ve made the choices that I have, I find it easier to not compare.

  7. says

    Very interesting post and equally engaging discussion. I’ve struggled with this. But am trying to live in my now and not trying to covet what I perceive to be better. Often times, what we believe to be someone else’s reality is different from the truth they are actually living.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Exactly, Rudri. I tell myself often that all I’m seeing is a partial “public” view of most people, as they see of me. We don’t know what’s really going on in people’s lives. And envy wastes a great deal of time.

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