We've all heard it before: "The grass is always greener on the other side." We often want what others have because we think, for whatever reason, we think we will be happier if we have it. Whether it is money or fame or beauty or children or relationships or things, a lot of the time we think if we could just have that one thing we would be happy. Now, most of you probably know (from experience or from reading about the experiences of others) that this is not true. As I've mentioned countless times, happiness comes from within. It is not something that can be bought or gained from having something you don't already possess. I know this. I really know it. But, nonetheless, I still want what I can't (or think I can't) have. Why?
I've been asking myself this question for as long as I can remember. I always want something. Whether it is a person, a job, or a new handbag, there is always something on my want list. Clearly this is unhealthy. Couple this with the fact that once I get something, I typically don't want it anymore, and you have a big mess of desire and disappointment.
I'll share a personal story with you as an example (uh-oh...here I go, opening up!). When I was about maybe eight or nine years old, I wanted this bicycle. I mean really wanted it. I thought it was amazing. It had a radio on the front and it was hot pink and I couldn't imagine anything better. Music plus the perceived freedom of biking equaled absolute heaven for a little kid like me. I talked about the bike nonstop. I had to have. I needed it. And then my birthday rolled around and I got it. Instead of being overjoyed and jumping on the bike for an adrenaline-fueled ride around our neighborhood, I can remember crawling on my mother's lap and crying, telling her, "I hate it."
Yes, like me looking back now at my younger self, you are probably thinking, "What a little brat! She was lucky to get any bike, let alone the super-cool one that she really, really wanted. She is so ungrateful!" I was ungrateful. And I was spoiled. I was used to getting what I wanted so it wasn't all that special when I did. For me, it was about the conquest. If my parents said I couldn't have something right then and there, I knew it had to be big. It had to be really awesome. I had to work for it (and, by that, I mean beg and mention it a million times a day). But then I would get it (and the bike wasn't the only example of this) and I would feel let down. Every day-after-Christmas and day-after-my-birthday was always a downer. I'd gotten what I'd wanted and now I didn't know what I wanted to strive for next. Without something to want, I felt lost. Unhappy. Confused.
Unfortunately for me, some of this has stayed with me into my adult life. I want things and then, once I have them, I don't really care for them anymore. I am the queen of giving things away that I've never even worn simply because I don't want them anymore. I am the master of finding ways to end relationships that are perfectly good simply because there is no longer a want to strive for. As you can imagine, this want-what-I-can't-have, grass-is-always-greener mentality doesn't work well for me. When I'm single, I want a relationship. When I'm in a relationship, I want to be single. I want. And then I don't want. Not good, and, certainly not positive or present.
So, you'll be happy to know that I took matters into my own hands and I went to a serious expert on this topic: Google. This morning I decided to brilliantly type in the phrase "wanting what we can't have." Yeah, I know, I'm a genius. In any case, I did all the hard, strenuous, back-breaking work of searching Google so you didn't have to. And this is what I found...
I found a great article on why we want what we think we can't have. According to the article, when we think we can't have something, we want it even more because of three factors:
3 Reasons We Want What We Can't Have:
- Heightened Attention: This happens when you know you can't have something. Think about when you swear off chocolate and then you see it somewhere, maybe at a party or in line at the grocery store. You've told yourself not to have it, that you can't have it, so your mind zeros in on it and it's suddenly all you can think about. You become obsessed on some level, and, before you know it, you've filled your plate with a piece of cake or thrown a Snickers into your shopping cart.
- Perceived Scarcity: If you think something is of limited supply (and this pertains especially to people, of which is there is only one of each person) or you think someone else wants what you can't have, you want it more. As the article says, "your inner brat wants it any price." I find this one is particularly true when it comes to people. If you think you can't have someone and know they are with (or could be with) someone else, you want him or her even more.
- Psychological Reactance: Most people don't like to hear "no." They don't like to be told they can't have or do something. Sometimes just being told you can't have something makes you want it more. This one has definitely happened to me. Tell me I can't have something and that's pretty much going to be all I can think about until I get it.
The article concludes by advising readers to ask themselves, the next time they want something, to think about whether any (or all) of these factors are in play. Recognizing that you might be wanting something for the wrong reason may make you aware of how little you really do want it. I don't think that all wanting is bad. I think it's the wanting for the wrong reasons that's the problem, which ties back in with the grass-is-greener idea. It only seems like your life would be better if you had a certain thing or person or attribute, but, the truth is you would be no happier if you got it than you were before unless you wanted to be happier.
Take the bike example. Not only was I not happier when I got the bike, but I was unhappier. Sometimes we want things that we shouldn't want. Sometimes we want things that are not good fo us. Wanting is okay, but you should always ask yourself these questions:
Questions To Ask Yourself When You Want:
- Do I really want this? Why?
- Do I think this will make me happier? Why?
- Do I need this in my life?
- Do I find myself relating this thing to my personal happiness?
- Do I want this for the wrong reasons?
- Do I think this is an unhealthy desire?
Though I must admit that I've lived only for a quarter of a century, I have not yet found a person, place, or thing that has made me happier overall. Things and people and states of being make me happy temporarily, but not in the long run. The one thing that makes me truly happy is the desire to be happy and acting on that desire. From now on I'm going to work on thinking more about the things I want. I'm going to consider whether or not they are worth wanting and I'm going to decide whether or not I actually want them or I just want them for the sake of having something to want. I've taken some time today to create a list to tips on how to stop wanting what you can't (or don't) have. I really hope that following these tips will help me focus my attention away from want, allowing me to spend more time in the now, embracing positivity.
4 Tips for Terminating Unnecessary Desire:
- Appreciate what you already have.
In the world we live in today, filled with societal expectations of what we should do, have, want, and be, it's hard sometimes to appreciate all of the things we already have. We don't need external things to make us happy. What we need is ourselves and our desire for a positive and present life.
- Stay in the now and be present.
Desire has a lot to do with the future or the past, doesn't it? It relates either to something you want but haven't yet had or to something that you had but want back. Either way you look at it, if you're pining after something or wishing you could get something, you are not living in the moment. And if you're not living in the moment, you're not experiencing the full potential of your life. If you're not sure about this, check out The Power of Now.
- Recognize the difference between "want" and "need."
Sounds simple but it isn't always easy. Of course you know that you need food and water and sleep, but do you also need other people? Do you need certain things to fit into society? You need shelter, but what kind of shelter? For most people, the difference between want and need is pretty clear, but the line can become blurred when emotions become involved. Sometimes desires become so strong that we really do believe we need something when it is only want.
- Focus on yourself.
Take a step back from your desire and think about YOU. You are made up of a great many different attributes. You have a lot to offer to the world, just as you are. Do you really need than thing or person to make you more complete? Most of us have probably seen the film Jerry Maguire and heard the famous line, "You complete me." You know who should complete you? You. You complete yourself. No matter how much you love or care about someone (and vice versa), you are the only one who can be you -- with or without your met or unmet desires.
It's important to remember when reading these tips that (1) they are just tips and they probably cannot be applied to every situation and (2) some things are worth wanting and aspiring towards. It's healthy to want to have a great relationship with your significant other. It's healthy to want to find happiness in your life. However, there are many things that we (okay, fine, that I) want that will never bring us happiness, joy, or peace. There are many things that offer the illusion that they are better, that they will allow us to live in a world where the grass is greener and the sun is brighter and everything is perfection. And it is these things you should approach with caution. It's not terrible to want a new bag or car or home. It's not terrible to miss an ex and want him back. What's important is how you handle those desires and how you balance what you want with what you need.
I know this post was incredibly long (not unlike a lot of my posts, according to certain family members who have said on more than one occasion, "Oh I started it, but it was so long..."), but it's a really important topic to me. As you can tell from the bike story, I've been battling this idea that the grass is always greener for awhile now. No matter what I've tried, I have a very hard time dealing with not getting what I want (I know, that sounds terribly spoiled) and with wanting what I can't have. I think I've come up with some pretty good ideas to help me with this and I hope that this post helps others who may be battling similar demons. Want is something that affects us all, whether it's on a big level or a tiny one. We all know it, but I don't think it hurts to offer up a reminder: when you get to the other side of that great fence called desire, you'll find that the grass is the exact same color that it was on the other side...