If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.” –Dorothy
By Lisa Sugarman
Isn’t it amazing how much greener the grass always looks in someone else’s yard? I mean, maybe it’s the fertilizer they use? Probably Scotts. Or maybe it’s something in their top soil. I’m really not sure. I just know that from across a white picket fence, everything usually looks pretty appealing on the other side.
What I’ve begun to notice, though, the longer I live in this little body of mine, is that once you hop the fence, bend down, and really get your nose in there, that’s when you start to see all the bald spots that you couldn’t see from your own yard. That’s when the imperfections really stand out. And that’s when you recognize that the grass isn’t always greener. It just looks that way from a distance. Get close enough, and you realize that everybody’s got bald spots just like you.
Now why am I talking about grass and lawn care? Two reasons. First, because I’m a big fan of meticulously groomed lawns. And second, because I love analogies—especially ones that make it easy for me to make my point. And everyone can relate to this one, so it makes my job easy. All I’m really doing here is finding a funny, relatable way to talk about something that I’ve been noticing a lot lately. And that’s problems. As in peoples’ problems and the fact that every single one of us has issues they’re dealing with.
See, I think that very few people actually remember that everyone out there is dealing with some kind of something. I think most people are just too hyper-focused on their own little world and their own issues to remember that everyone’s actually dealing with the same things. Ironic, though, because these same people who walk around immersed in their own problems are also the ones who spend too much time and energy wishing they had everyone else’s life. Funny thing is, regardless of how charmed someone else’s life may look from the outside, the grass is almost never greener when you jump the fence and land on the other side.
I’ll bet you didn’t know that there’s actually a clinical diagnosis for people who aren’t satisfied with their own lives; people who are convinced that everyone out there is better off than they are. I’m not making this up. And no, I’m not crossing my fingers behind my back while I’m telling you either. It’s legit. It’s called the Grass is Always Greener Syndrome. And frankly, I think it’s a bigger problem than most people realize.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that might be just about one of the most ridiculous things you’ve ever heard. And it is. I agree. But for a lot of people out there, it’s very, very real. And it can be very, very debilitating.
There’s a whole world of people out there who are absolutely miserable because they focus all their energy on what everyone else around them has and how much better it is than what they have. And I’m not just talking about materialistic-type stuff, like houses and cars and clothes and club memberships. I’m talking about everything from husbands and wives to kids and body types. The list is really endless. And it really makes me sad to see the effect that this way of thinking has on people. Because it inhibits people from appreciating all the positive things they have right under their own nose.
I think I know what you’re thinking now, too. You’re thinking that this is just called straight-up envy. And you’re basically right. Because envy is resentment which, according to my favorite resource, Dictionary.com, occurs when a person lacks another’s superior quality, achievement, or possession and either desires it or wishes that the other lacked it. And that’s powerful stuff that can really tweak a person’s brain the wrong way if they can’t keep it in perspective.
There’s this British philosopher I like, Bertrand Russell. Wicked smaht guy. He said that envy was one of the most potent causes of unhappiness. And I agree with him 110 percent.
Look, it’s human nature to covet to a certain degree. It is, after all, written into the Ten Commandments. So that makes it a legitimate issue. But when it crosses over into a place where the coveting you’re doing keeps you from being content in your own little world, then, my friend, you’ve got trouble.
See, envy’s a vicious cycle and little else than that. It incestuous. It feeds off itself and breeds little envy babies. Plus, it’s just an enormous waste of time, because absolutely nothing positive comes from it. So honestly, why give in to it? Believing that everything everyone else has is better than what you have just leads to feeling depressed and anxious. And the more we give into these asinine types of feelings, the deeper we fall.
I mean, most of us were raised to believe that you should always try to make the most of what you have. And considering that there’s so much in life that we have no control over, I think it’s pretty silly to create another whole layer of anxiety by measuring yourself against other people. Because I don’t care who it is you’re measuring yourself against, they’ve got something. Maybe they look perfect on the outside, but I can almost guarantee that they’re dealing with something on the inside. Whether it’s issues with kids or finances or fidelity or health, everyone’s got something. And the chances are good that if they measured themselves against you, they’d want what you had. Isn’t irony fun?
So what do we do? How do we avoid falling into the same trap every time? Well, since I’m not going to directly come out and tell you what to do (because you wouldn’t appreciate me jamming my opinion down your throat); I’m just going to passively tell you what I do. And whatever you glean from it you glean. But let me warn you, there are no free rides; you’ve gotta work to make progress.
Whenever I catch myself longing for what someone else has (and it happens, believe me), I basically slap myself in the face to remind me that I’m being an idiot. It’s tough love but it works almost every time. Then I think about what I’d tell my kids, and that’s the kicker. Because if I’m not willing to walk the walk myself, then I have no business holding my kids to a standard of behaviour. So that’s like a built-in insurance policy that I’ll follow through. Like if one of my kids came to me drooling about the iPhone that everyone else has or the Uggs or the Patagonia or the body that fits into the skinny jeans. I’d tell them to pay more attention to what they do have and to think about how lucky they are that they have it. I’d remind them that there are so many who have so little and that focusing too much on what everyone else has is just plain dumb.
And that’s what you do, at least until you can make it second nature to appreciate all the good that are in your life. Otherwise, the alternative is to live a bitter, jealous life, always paying more attention to what people around you have and feeling hollow about yourself. Because it’s really just all about learning to be content. There’s a lot of Buddha-type thinking that’s involved, but that’s a column for another day. In the meantime, though, try the slapping. It works. And just do your best to be positive, because I really don’t want to have to slap you myself.
Lisa Sugarman lives in Marblehead. Read and discuss all her columns at facebook.com/ItisWhatitisColumn OR follow her blog at https://itiswhatitiscolumn.wordpress.com.