Why the grass seems greener on the other side of the fence

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Kevin Mangelschots

Most of the time, the grass seems greener on the other side of the fence. Even though this might not always be the case in reality.

The grass being seemingly greener only depends on what we value most. And we tend to appreciate the things we don’t own more heavily than the things we do have, viewing those things as trivial and self-evident.

Why the grass seems greener on the other side of the fence

Image of green grass with a fence.

Curiosity

People are curious by nature. It’s one of our main emotional drives. It’s even considered a trait that’s especially prevalent in intelligent people, since they tend to ask more questions and actively search out new ideas and solutions to problems.

Thus, curiosity can be considered a consequence of evolution, since life is always changing, and we constantly have to adapt to our new environment.

It is the curiosity that drives us to look for things that are currently missing in our lives. Thus, it is only natural that we see new opportunities and things that we don’t presently own and seem appealing to us.

Desiring things we don’t own

People have a tendency to desire the things they don’t possess.

Rather than appreciating the things we currently have, and the stability, security they provide, we have the idea that there’s always something out there that’s better than what we presently own.

Devalue things we already have

We tend to devalue the things we already own, and tend to regard those things as trivial.

Furthermore, we only tend to see what’s in the limelight, and not what’s going on behind the scenes. Just because something seems great in public doesn’t mean that it’s worth all the trouble that goes into obtaining it.

What we see, the public image that’s being show to the audience, doesn’t depict the whole picture. It does not show the great length and struggles one might have gone through to obtain that result.

We like to imagine a perfect future that’s better than reality

The words “expectations vs. reality” written in black letters on a light blue background.
There’s also an element of fantasy to this specific phenomenon.

We frequently paint a perfect imaginary future where our problems will disappear and life will be perfect. This imaginary fantasy is usually much better than reality truly is. This can skew the perspective we have about reality. We can attribute this to low self-esteem and confidence issues.

Just because things look better at first glance doesn’t mean that the grass truly is greener on the other side of the fence. Especially not when we know that we’ve got a tendency to glorify things.

The problem is that we tend to compare our own “behind the scenes” with other people’s “highlight reels.”

Projection

We project and attribute our feelings of unhappiness and our desires for something we don’t own onto others instead of taking accountability ourselves.

It is always someone else’s fault that they own “better” things or “more” than us, and never due to our own mistakes and inadequacies. It’s always a friend, our partner, the government, the corporation’s, … fault that we’re unhappy or desiring things outside our reach.

Of course, that is not true. We need to take ownership and responsibility for our own lives and happiness if we want to see our desires met, our goals reached, and be content with our lives.

Projecting and placing our personal happiness to people and things instead of taking responsibility ourselves is a big contributor to feeling that the grass seems greener on the other side of the fence.

Fear of missing out (FOMO)

 

Image of an ankle brace with the name “fear” on stuck to someone's ankle indicating that they're paralyzed by fear.

Mass media platforms such as social media, television, and the radio can cause their audience to feel like they’re missing out, and are lacking in pleasurable experiences.

This can generate a hunger and desire for new things we haven’t attained yet. At worst, though, it can cause self-esteem issues and feelings of insufficiency.

We like showing off our achievements

Many people are inherently selfish. Some folks, especially those suffering from low self-esteem and other psychological issues, enjoy purposely making other people feel bad by showing off their achievements in order to feel less miserable about themselves.

However, we frequently feel threatened when other people show off their own accomplishments. This can make us feel insufficient and insecure, which can in turn make us want what other people have.

Attention bias

One of the reasons that the grass looks greener on the other side is because it is related to an attention bias.

Naturally, we have limited information available about the things we don’t have. Thus, we don’t know how it works very well. We don’t know the advantages, and failings, that it entails.

We see the things we want to see. And we see life like we are, not like it actually is

Image of a woman with blue eyes.

We tend to see the things we want to see. And we see life like we are, not like it is in reality.

When we want to see that those other things that we don’t have are better than what we do possess, then we tend to think of these things as being better. Regardless if they are in reality truly better or not.

Peer pressure and social conditioning

Social conditioning and peer pressure can also be possible contributors.

Pressure from our peers, family, friends, and even from social media platforms such as the television and radio, can cause us to want the things they deem worthy of chasing.

We are constantly unconsciously influenced by our surroundings. Thus, our behavior is in part shaped by what other people think and deem to be appropriate.

We are continually chasing happiness

Human beings tend to chase happiness, but I think we’re better off chasing contentment, since happiness seems like a fleeting feeling of euphoria to me.

We often think that material wealth will bring us happiness. And while being poor can certainly be detrimental to our happiness, contentment, and overall mental state, having a lot of money doesn’t necessarily make us happier than an average wage would. 

Perfection

 

Illustration how perfectionism and procrastination influence each other.

Perfectionists are constantly striving to better themselves and improve their own lives, regularly to the point of obsession.

This can leave them feeling wanting for a better life, and like what they do have at the moment is not enough, even though it might be a lot already.

And even though wanting to improve your personal life is good, perfection is not attainable.

It is also needed to learn how to be content with the things you have, even though it might not be everything your heart desires.

Escaping from your current life

Since people are creatures of habit, we have a proclivity to organize our days in a manner that’s predictable and structured.

But this organized way of living can create a sense of dullness in our daily lives. So much so that we desperately seek ways to escape our boring, monotone livings.

This can give root to the grass seems greener on the other side of the fence phenomenon.

A habit

 

Image describing how a new habit is created.

We are creatures of habit. A lot of what we do are organized patterns of thoughts and behavior. And we know that good habits take time to form.

Think about most people’s daily routine such as getting out of bed, washing your teeth, eating something, preparing to go to work and so on.

Constantly thinking about what things others have, and we don’t can become a vicious, toxic cycle. A detrimental habit that we’re unaware of its existence, even though it is unconsciously negatively impacting our very own lives.

The solution?

Practice gratefulness

We should learn to be grateful for the things we do have. We should become proficient at valuing the positive things currently going on in our lives.

Are you healthy and able to work? That’s one of the greatest gift life could give you, since you can do, and become, basically anything you put your mind to. That’s if you decide to put in the necessary time and effort.

Rather than being angry and negative that you have to work, be grateful for having the opportunity to work, not everyone has that luxury. Some people are too sick to work, or can’t find a job and are in constant monetary struggles because of it.

Practice realistic thinking

At times, the grass can indeed be greener on the other side, but that’s not a given at all. We tend to romanticize things and portray situations as being better and more beautiful than they realistically are.

Try to remain objective and rational. Try thinking with your brain instead of with your emotions.

Remember that perfection doesn’t exist

 

The quote, “strive for progress, not perfection” written on a track and field background.
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Striving for improvement is one thing, as the road towards betterment can bring us happiness and contentment.

But one should realize that perfection doesn’t exist, and thus one should temper their expectations.

We will probably still feel like we don’t have enough and like other folks have better things than us, even though we might own a lot of great things in life. Possibly much more than the other people around us.

Yet, a lot of rich people who seemingly have everything going for them are unhappy and depressed. So having a lot doesn’t always equal being content.

Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

What does, “the grass seems greener on the other side” mean?

The quote, “the grass is always greener, until you have to mow it” written in white letters, with green as the background

The grass seeing greener on the other side means that the things we don’t possess have a tendency to look more attractive and desirable than the things we do have.

Nevertheless, even though the things we don’t have might seem more desirable, they might not be in the end.

The grass is always greener on the other side, origin

The idea of the saying “the grass is always greener on the other side” can be found all the way back to 43 BC-17 AD. It was the ancient Roman poet Publius Ovidius Naso, also known as Ovid.

He first wrote, “Fertilior seges est alenis semper in agris.” This means that the harvest is always more fruitful in another man’s fields than in one’s own.

However, if we look at the essence of the human race, then it is not unreasonable to think that the wise advice to be content with that what we got instead of always wanting that what is unattainable or isn’t ours existed a long time beforehand.

This means that a likewise saying possibly goes even way further back.

Final note

Image of the word, “conclusions” written on a black backboard with white chalk.

The grass always seems greener on the other side of the fence. It appears like we’re hardwired to think that way. However, sometimes it really is the case that something we don’t own is better.

If you hate your job, or working environment for example, then I think it’s best to switch to another career path. Because being miserable isn’t truly living either.

I think it’s a good thing to consider your possibilities and to entertain the chance that something you don’t own is better than that what you have.

However, try to be objective and rational, without falling victim to delusional fantasies. It’s a skill learning to be happy with what we got, even if it’s not perfect.

Always remember that to someone else, you’re the other side of the fence.