Helen Nianias | Contributing writer | Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Ask An Adult: Why Is The Grass Always Greener?

Ask An Adult: Why Is The Grass Always Greener?

The Debrief: We’re obsessed with looking at what our friends have, what we have, what we used to have, or, basically, thinking about what we don't have. But why do we think the grass is always so much greener?

Artwork by Alex Coll

We’re obsessed with looking at what our friends have, or what we could have, or what we used to have. But why? How often do people roll out the phrases 'it will be better when', 'I'll be happy if' or 'things aren't what they used to be'. Integrated psychotherapist Hilda Burke says idealising alternatives could be a sign that we’re a little lazy about making changes in our own lives.

'Part of the attraction of thinking that the grass is greener on the other side is that it lets us off the hook about tending to our own garden,' Hilda says. 'Imagining that another relationship, another job, another city will make us happier implies that there is not much point investing in what we already have to make it better.'

It’s easy to change the external factors that we’re stressing about – but it’s how we respond once we’re in that situation that really counts. However we often distract ourselves by focussing on the easily changeable things rather than the harder-to-manage stuff within ourselves that will affect how we are in any of these new situations. 'Often we find that it’s the same old us that’s tagged along for the ride and the grass will appear greener somewhere else,' says Hilda.

Your Life Could Always Be Better - Get Over It

'There are endless things we could have a better version of in ourselves,' says Hilda. Whether it’s something a bit shallow like wanting to lose a bit of weight or something more meaningful, such as the state of your CV, we could all stand to improve ourselves a bit. None of us is perfect. Not even the Barefoot Contessa, or Bjork, or Susan Sarandon.

'Obsessing over what we haven’t got and fantasising about alternatives disempowers us because it distracts us from taking responsibility,” says Hilda. “Sometimes we might need to change the boyfriend or change the job, but often we need to change our own attitude and our perceptions.' 

Learn From Dissatisfcaion

Next time you’re in a shitty life situ and are plotting your way out, you could be missing out on a lot by not noticing what’s making you unhappy. Hilda says: “You’re wishing away the learning. You’ll probably come up against the same situations again and again. I see it with my clients. Sometimes you have to change yourself. 

'Once we’ve started to work on what we think might be better it’ll give a hint as to what our dissatisfaction truly is,” says Hilda. “It’s not the situation, it’s something more intrinsic to who we are. Really it’s insight we need to find some level of contentment.'

Being Jelly Is In Our DNA

Being dissatisfied could be an evolutionary trait, Hilda argues. 'Why did people colonise new lands, why do people ever move out of their village, why did people discover new things?' she asks. 'People have this innate restlessness. The people who did move on and were adaptable were probably the ones who survived.'

The Grass Is Always Greener mentality could come from our genes but in modern society this attitude can manifest as an anxiety rather than the spirit of derring-do. 'You can drive yourself mad imaging how it would be if you changed all the variables, and imagining all the parallel lives you could have. It’s quite natural to do a certain amount of it but can be destructive if it becomes habitual,' Hilda says.

This means you end up undermining everything good in your life and then you really will have a rubbish, scorched lawn.

Social Media Makes All Of Our Gardens Look Quite Brown TBH

The grass is very green on the other side on social media. Like, dazzlingly lush, thick and emerald green. That’s probably just what the Perpetua filter does on Instagram. Don’t just blame your apps for feeling down in the dumps, however.

'It’s a recipe for instilling envy and dissatisfaction with one’s own life, but I think if you’re drawn to that way of thinking anyway social media will really just fuel it,' Hilda says. 'Other people might think: ‘That’s a nice picture’ and move on, or even feel sorry for people and the myth they’ve created. But when you’re already drawn to envying others its dangerous, because it’s a drip-feed of envy-provoking material.'

The Past Isn't A Garden - It's A Mirage

It’s not just other people we idealise, it can be our own pasts. Looking back and thinking how much happier we were with Dave, or when we lived in that flat that had the bath and shower. 'You cherry-pick things,' says Hilda. 'If you’re looking back at a relationship or whatever, you’re probably just looking at the high points, especially if you’re in the mourning phase. There will have been times you were happy but you will also have been totally miserable sometimes.'

Nostalgia is natural, but why do we indulge in it? 'There’s an element of benchmarking. We want to chart our level of contentment and work out how we’re doing, but ultimately we don’t know,' says Hilda. 'Our memories can be very faulty. We can block things. It’s a risky business because it’s not always a natural reflection of the past and we’re drawn to it when we’re feeling low. We compare it to an imagined happiness.'

Like this? You might also be interested in:

What Is The Dark Triad? The Scientific Reason Why We're So Attracted To Fuckboys (and girls)

When A Celebrity Dies, Are We Really Grieving?

Ask An Adult: Why Am I Afraid Of Dying?

Follow Helen on Twitter @helennianias

Tags: Ask An Adult