We’ve all heard the phrase ‘the grass is always greener on the other side’—the idea that the neighbour’s lawn always looks better than yours from the opposing side of the fence.
This phrase is often used more generally to describe our tendency to downplay anything positive in our lives and focus on the negative, especially when comparing ourselves to others. From the opposing perspective, other people’s achievements seem to stand out much more than their failures causing us to feel bad about ourselves.
While there is most likely some evolutionary advantage for why humans do this, I also think that we are nurtured this way. Society places a lot of undue pressure on us to perform to impossible standards. It seems to be ingrained in us to forget about any prior successes we may have had and to judge our worth by our most recent work.
This ‘what have you done for me lately?’ attitude is seen throughout society and can be the cause of debilitating depression and feelings of low self-worth. Even when people put out recent masterpieces, rarely does the feeling of adulation remain for very long. You can spend a decade creating something akin to Avatar, but as soon as it’s done, people will ask you what else you’re working on.
Recently, I was getting down on myself for not achieving certain goals that I had set. It took a conversation with my friend to reveal all the things that had gone right for me. After realizing this, I began to consider how my happiness was connected with my perception. Two things stood out for me:
1.) Having self-respect. For me, having self-respect is a matter of developing myself until I have confidence in my skills and abilities. This is one way to combat ‘the grass is always greener’ syndrome. Whether it’s becoming more educated, skilled, healthier, more giving… I need to put in the work or else I’ll feel miserable, especially when comparing myself to others. Whenever I am unhappy, it usually has to do with some shortcut I’ve taken in personal development.
2.) Living purely in the moment. This phrase gets kicked around a lot, almost to the point where it has lost all meaning. If you look at the common thread in most cases of unhappiness, it seems to stem from an emphasis on the uncertainty of the future.
Notice that both of these things are largely within your control.
There are times when I wanted something badly, but despite working hard, I still came up short. Of course whenever that happens it’s disappointing and not a good feeling to have. However, I find solace in the fact that there are a lot of special, talented, and deserving people in the world that are all vying for the same things I want. If the better person wins, then I need to work harder. Sure, some success is attributed to luck, but there will be times when the luck goes in my favour too. For my take on luck, see my article titled: Create Your Own Luck.
My process of happiness is this:
- Personal development to gain self-respect.
- Focus on the positives.
- Don’t worry about what the neighbour has or may think.
- Live purely in the moment.
Most of these steps are simply a matter of altering your perception, not about money, fame, success, or pleasing others. These things can give you momentary pleasure, but not long-lasting happiness. What’s the difference? Pleasure is the type of thing that a junkie gets from getting high, but it isn’t sustainable. The junkie gets high (or in your case, a promotion, new car, a win of some kind…) which is inevitably followed by an equal or even greater low. To mitigate the low, the junkie tries to counterbalance it with another high. As Socrates said, this is like trying to fill a leaky bucket.
By chasing these ‘highs’, you are creating a benchmark in your mind—some arbitrary target that you aim for. However, once you reach that target, you simply raise the benchmark higher. You will never be satisfied, and will spend the majority of your life in the ‘non-happiness zone’ chasing highs.
Pleasure operates according to a law of diminishing returns—the more you pursue it, the harder it becomes to attain. Happiness on the other hand is a much longer lasting and sustainable state of mind. Which one are you pursuing?
Article by Edward Mullen
Host of The Edward Mullen Podcast