Here’s a funny story.
After 5 years living abroad in Costa Rica, Julie and I picked up and moved back to the US, to sunny San Diego because we thought the grass was greener.
The San Diego grass looked really green in contrast to the sun scorched earth of Northwest Costa Rica in April when the parched earth hasn’t seen a drop of rain in over 5 months. Let’s just say green grass was hard to come by..
The Grass Is Greener Myth
But of course what I’m really talking about is the symbolic meaning of that all too common saying in our culture — “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” referring to the common human experience of not appreciating what you have and looking at other situations through a more positive lens.
We’d been living in a small beach town on the west coast of Costa Rica. The appeal of big city life — the options for food, the mental stimulation, the diversity, the social life, the access to more things, and the seamless ease at which things just work — all that stuff looked really green.
San Diego vs Costa Rica: Is The Grass Really Greener?
I’ll save you all the details.
It wasn’t that green. We moved back to CR 6 months later.
If you want more on this you can read these 2 articles here:
Chatting with a friend about being back in CR and the experience of moving back, he said “oh yeah, the grass is always greener on other side.” Head nodding, without giving much thought to it I replied, “yeah, I guess you’re right.”
Unravelling The Myth That The Other Side Is Better
I sat with this weird feeling in my gut trying to process that conversation I had earlier in the day. Something felt incomplete in my mind. I wanted to dive deeper and see what was really going on beneath the surface.
- Why does it feel like the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence?”
- Why do we have such a hard time appreciating what we have?
- And why do we always want what we don’t have?
What I realized is that the whole grass is greener saying is mostly bullshit. It’s a myth.
Or as Robert Fulghum, author of that classic book “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” puts it: “The grass is not, in fact, always greener on the other side of the fence. No, not at all. Fences have nothing to do with it. The grass is greenest where it is watered. When crossing over fences, carry water with you and tend the grass wherever you are.”
We got sucked into the trap — we glorified the hell out of what we didn’t have and under appreciated what we did have.
Today I’m going to unpack this myth and provide a few options for you so that you don’t make the same mistake we did.
What’s Beneath the Grass is Always Greener Thinking?
The core issue underpinning the grass is greener thinking is that it takes you out of the present moment. It strips you away from the now. You start projecting feelings into the future trying to anticipate what you want at a later date. If you check out the research, you’ll see that we’re really bad at making these predictions.
Other studies further illustrate just how bad we are at knowing what will make us happy in the future. The punch line is that we’re horrible at predicting the future, but for some reason we still do it all the time!
What’s also at play is the contrast principle that states that we crave novelty as humans. Too much of the same thing day after day will make us want change.
And lastly, the grass is greener thinking is an easy way to escape reality. Going through some tough times or dealing with some hardship? Nothing like thinking about a different environment to shift your focus away from the real issue. Instead of looking inside or to the people in your life, we use the grass is greener to blame the current situation…“Oh it must be town. Or it’s my boss. Or my job.”
It pulls you away from taking responsibility and doing the hard work of looking inside.
How To Appreciate The Present Moment
What to Do About It? Water Your Grass!
1) Practice Gratitude
When you appreciate things you have on a frequent basis, you have much less mental space for to think about the things you don’t have. The consistency of practicing gratitude on a daily basis will lead to this virtuous cycle of more gratitude. You start to notice little stuff that you never did before. You start to appreciate these things on a new level. A simple way to start off every morning is to write down 3 things that you’re grateful for. Personally, I use the 5-min journal.
2) Quiet The Voice In Your Head Through Meditation / Yoga / Breathing
As Mark Leary in his book The Curse of the Self states, “The self is not an unmitigated blessing. It is single-handedly responsible for many, if not most of the problems that human beings face as individuals..and conjures up a great deal of personal suffering in the form of depression, anxiety, anger, jealousy, and other negative emotions.”
A meditation or yoga practice is one of the most powerful tools to give yourself relief from the “drunken monkey”, “inner critic”, or “asshole roommate” – however you want to describe the voice in your head. These ancient techniques that use the power of breath to alter consciousness do so by quieting that inner critic so that you can actually experience more peace of mind, less worry, and a greater sense of purpose. In other words, you get pulled back into the present and can fully appreciate it more.
3) Find Your Way Into Flow States
Like yoga and meditation, the flow state is a tool to pull you into the present. I’ve written extensively about flow states.
- 5 Ways To Become Superhuman With Flow
- How You Can Become A Superhuman Athlete
- Refuel Your Buckets With The OverFlow Effect
- Tap Into Flow With Yoga
4) Get Out Into Nature
Exposing your brain to moments of awe force you into the present moment. Mountains, the ocean, forests, jungles, lakes, and rivers all do the trick. Novel, rich environments challenge normal sensory inputs and allow you to see things from a different perspective. It reminds you how immensely vast this world is and that your small shit you’re worrying about might not be that important in the grand scheme of things.
The Power is in the Daily Practice
Buddha once said that the way to happiness is actually quite simple; the secret is to learn to want what you have and not want what you don’t have.
This seems so simple on the surface, but the real challenge is in the daily practice. That’s where the hard works comes in. I know for me a yoga practice and a morning movement meditation has been a powerful weapon to drive me into the present and avoid the grass is greener thinking.
I don’t claim to have all the answers but I do know that by practicing some kind of daily mindfulness, you can create more inner peace and happiness.
That’s the watering I’ll be doing. How will you water your grass?
(Photo credit — James Rickwood – https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14780500)