the grass is always greener...or is it?
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...
Hello, P.P., I'm Steve, an alkie from Naples. FL. Right now, my wife and I are in Cocoa Beach FL, attending an Alcoholics Anonymous workshop. I only write this because being away from home, I'm having to use her computer, and it is frustration, not to have my "own stuff" readily at hand.
Thanks for visiting my blog, How did you get here?
I also tend to write long blogs...I call them "Blongs". My Peeps are mostly alcoholics or Alanons, with a few "other". We are all mostly sick people--don't tell them I said that.
Been sober 35 years March 18, and although tthingsomehat's no great happening, it is the date of a turning point in my life. I won't bore you with recovery stuff though, unless you tell me you are an addict of some kind.
I could sure comment at length on your blog, but unless I would know you better, that's probably not a good idea.
I will say, I don't think you are alone in your "former!" habit of "wanting something, then when you have it...NOT wanting it any more." That pretty well describes humankind,except pink bike with radio) you seem to have had this behavior early in life, and slightly extreme? Maybe? Hey, it waaaaay past my bedtime. I just wanted to touch monitors with you, so you know I DO answer people.
We'll communicate again, I hope, but be warned, my blogs are pretty often recovery-related...also often spiritual (not religious) in nature. OK?
[email protected] (violin player!)
Posted by: Steve Elsaesser | May 02, 2009 at 11:19 PM
Random comments before "the good stuff:"
1. I hate that quote in Jerry McGuire. It has got to be one of the worst movie quotes of all time ... ever. :) So much damage this mentality does to people. If you're looking for someone to complete you, you're going to be disappointed. No one can do that but you. (Not "you" but ... well, you know what I mean.)
2. "Music plus the perceived freedom of biking equaled absolute heaven for a little kid like me." This is still true for me as an adult. All I need is music and a car, open windows and an open road and I am in heaven. This is the biggest thing I am looking forward to when I'm back in the States this summer.
I'm glad you posted this PP because all of us struggle with this tug-of-war between wants and needs and how both of them play into our happiness. It's true: our possessions do not bestow happiness on us; happiness begins in ourselves. But when we are cultivating this happiness in our own lives, we do find (or at least I do anyways) that sometimes these possessions can augment this happiness even more. For instance, I am a music lover and a book lover and I think on most occasions someone could probably ask me, "Did you really need that book/CD?" and I could honestly answer, "No." But I garner so much enjoyment out of X book or Y CD that its purchase is worth it for me. (And to those who might be wondering, when money is tight, I am A-okay to get both of these at the local public library or to buy sparingly and at used book/CD shops:-))
Your questions to ask yourself are excellent because if we can get to the root of why we desire something, we might (and often do) discover that we can fulfill that need or desire with something more appropriate.
So many things are here in this article, PP. Mindfulness, being present, gratitude. YES! All of these are key elements in being less hungry, consumer-y, green-eyed with envy.
I can tell you what has helped me:
*The motto: Travel light. (It's amazing how much perspective you get when you must whittle all of your possessions down to three suitcases in order to get on a plane).
* Actually living with less and on one-quarter the salary I made in the States. Every purchase becomes a "do I really need it?" scenario. I still buy things that I don't need sometimes because I really do experience joy when I do (like the cheap finds I discover at the outdoor market or a funky pair of earrings). But the majority of my joys now come from personal and shared experiences.
Posted by: Chania Girl | May 03, 2009 at 12:30 AM
It has taken me to the ripe of age of 38 to appreciate what you have written about above. Due to a long series of changes in my life over the past decade, good and bad, now I can 95% of the time really appreciate what I have. I appreciate living in a European city, I appreciate my small apartment, my family, the health of my immediate and extended family. I try to appreciate the weather we have every day in some way and the interactions I have with people. 95% of the time I can do this effortlessly as I have been training myself for a long while.
However there are also times when jealousy hits and I feel unsatisfied - if we had our own house, if we had a garden, if we could afford more holidays away, if we hadn´t lost some money in a bad investment etc etc. Those moments make me feel PINCHED and MEAN. I hate them. I just try to breathe through them and move on :)
Posted by: RML | May 03, 2009 at 03:10 AM
I have read and written alot on the subject of happiness over the last few years, and I have to say hats off to you, this is a superb post! And really excellent tips to "complete" it ;-)
Thanks also for the blogroll link - much appreciated!
Posted by: Hilda | May 03, 2009 at 06:34 AM
This is a battle that we must all fight. I think our desires for things we can't have is driven by fear. With "stuff", we are afraid that we don't have enough, or that what we have isn't good enough, and so we seek our more and better "stuff". We feel a temporary surge of adrenaline and other feel-good chemicals when we get new stuff, but that quickly fades, and the feelings of lack resurface.
As for relationships, when we are not with someone, there is a tendency to think "What if I never find anyone?", and so that leads us to want a relationship. However, once we have a relationship, I think it's a natural human tendency to say things like "Is this as good as it gets? Maybe I'm missing out on an even better relationship. If only I were single, I could look for a better relationship..." And so the cycle continues.
The key to breaking the cycle is realizing that it *is* a cycle, a vicious merry-go-round of emotions that never ends...for as long as you decide to ride it. At any point in the cycle, you can simply tell yourself that you've had enough, and stop the madness. Just realizing that getting what you want won't make you happy is a huge first step. Knowing that whatever object/person/situation you covet will only offer you a temporary "fix" can often go a long way towards helping you stop the cycle.
In my own life, I've been successful in doing this with "stuff", or physical objects, but I haven't been nearly as successful with situations or relationships. "If only my job would allow me to do X, or if I could work on X project, that would make me happy." Relationships: "If only I had a girlfriend who was X, or who had X, then I'd be happy."
But then once I have X, I realize that it hasn't made me happy at all, but has instead brought on an entirely new set of problems and conditions that didn't exist before. The more I notice this pattern repeating itself, the more I am able to resist the effects of it. I wish I could say that I have conquered it, but that's just wishful thinking ;)
Posted by: Jay Schryer | May 03, 2009 at 06:55 AM
Steve - WOW! 35 years! That's really great. I'm not quite sure how I stumbled on your blog. I was looking around online and came across it and it seemed great. I look forward to reading more of your work. I completely understand that it's annoying to be on the road and not have your own stuff so I appreciate you stopping by to comment on my site. Feel free to comment all you want. I love the feedback! :)
Chania Girl - Oh no, our first disagreement! :) I acutally do like Jerry Maguire, though I'm completely against the idea of needing someone else to complete you. But, don't worry, I'm completely on the same page with you on #2. Open road, open windows, great music...heavenly! I think you're right about things being able to aid in our happiness. Things -- like a great book or new music -- can bring us temporary happiness, and can give us insights onto long-term happiness, but I think it's up to us to make our own happiness within ourselves. That's really cool that you're living with less and learning from it. I really need to work more on the idea of traveling light in life... Thanks for your comments. As always, they are much appreciated and enjoyed!
RML - That's so wonderful that you are appreciating what you have most of the time! As you mentioned, when you are wanting things you don't need, you don't feel happier. Keep up the great work of living with gratitude in your life! :)
Hilda - Thank you! Coming from someone who has written a lot about happiness, that means a lot. I'm smiling just reading your words. Thanks!
Jay - Thanks for the great comments! You are completely on point with the cycle idea. It IS a cycle and it is up to the whoever is on the merry-go-round to get off the ride. Like you, I find it's a lot easier to do with things than it is to do with people/situations. It's a big step to notice what's happening though so I'm proud of both of us for doing that! If only it were just a lit bit easier to break the cycles...
Posted by: positively present | May 03, 2009 at 09:36 AM
What a wonderfully honest post. Thanks for sharing your inner workings with us.
May you be blessed with simply "being," and in wanting nothing but that, may everything you've ever dreamed of come your way with ease.
Posted by: Megan Bord | May 03, 2009 at 09:52 AM
JoyGirl - Thank you! I'm so glad you liked the post and thank you so much for your kind and supportive words.
Posted by: positively present | May 03, 2009 at 10:50 AM
This is a really great post. Very appropriate considering that this kind of "wanting" has been the very thing that has led us into the economic crisis that we've created. Detachment from outcomes and goals, seems to be a cornerstone of every spiritual text or self improvement book I've come across.
Posted by: Srinivas Rao | May 03, 2009 at 11:39 AM
Very insightful article. The battle of wants vs. needs is always going on in my head. ;-)
Posted by: Marc and Angel Hack Life | May 03, 2009 at 12:08 PM
You have a wonderful blog here. I love it. This is such are great post, keep up all the hard work. Would you be interested in exchanging links. I would like to add you to my blog roll if you would add me to yours. Http://www.successdemandsaction.com
Posted by: Allen Loomis | May 03, 2009 at 01:39 PM
I understand what you mean that not all wants are bad, as we always have to want something - if only even a goal for who we want to be - to keep moving forward. It's so hard to be objective and realise when your wants are really just getting in the way of what you've already got. Good luck!
Posted by: Penny | May 03, 2009 at 02:25 PM
Srinivas - Great point. This post really can relate to how we arrived at the economic situation we're currently in. Thanks for the comment!
Allen - Thank you! Your blog is great too. I'll most certainly add it to my blog roll. Thanks for stopping by PP.
Marc and Angel - Thank you for stumbling! :) I think a lot of people battle with want vs. need in some form or another. It's hard to balance it at times, but I'm hoping that I can teach myself how to do it by listening to my own advice.
Penny - You're completely right. It's really important to have goals and desires in life to keep us moving forward, but there are some desires that aren't healthy for us. I guess it really comes down to figuring out what are the good desires and what are the bad desires. Thanks for commenting!
Posted by: positively present | May 03, 2009 at 04:50 PM
Wow wow wow!!! I just wrote a post today that touches on this...sort of... But this really hits home! I am feeling like I am not getting what I want. I feel like I am trying so hard to go after and dream and nothing is happening. But you hit on something here...if I get my dream, will I be happier? Oh gosh, I hate to say this...but maybe not... Perhaps it's just the thrill of the chase that is so exciting...once you get what you want, it's time to move on to the next conquest.
Whew...I have a lot to think about now...
Posted by: caroline | May 04, 2009 at 01:11 AM
Very thoughtful post.
I'd dig a level deeper to analyze your wants: it's your mind that wants something, not you. If you watch the want, it will go away at some point (it had a beginning, so it'll have an end).
On the other hand you can satisfy the want and make it go away pronto.
But the thing here is to realize that you are the "still witness" to the want, that all wants are external and that no want can ever bug you.
Posted by: Lucky Balaraman | May 04, 2009 at 04:39 AM
Caroline - That's awesome! I'm going to have to go check out your site and see what you wrote. Unfortunately, I don't think getting your dream will make you happier in the long run. I think YOU make you happy and your dream can add to that, but you can be just as happy without it. Happiness is a mindset, not something external. Nonetheless, it's important to have dreams and desires to work towards...just don't make them the reason you will someday be happier.
Lucky - You make a great point! I was actually writing about this on someone else's blog the other day, but wants are just thoughts. A former therapist of mine suggested that I think of thoughts like leaves floating down a river. You see them. They are there. They are real. But you are not your thoughts. You can watch them drift away, as they always eventually will. Wants are the same way. You are not the same thing as what you want. You have to acknowledge your desires as separate entities. You can be aware of them, but you have to realize that they are separate from who you are. Thanks for this comment. It definitely made me see this in a new light!
Posted by: positively present | May 04, 2009 at 08:07 AM
Hmmm, dammit. This forces me to get over my severe crabbiness over not being able to have the cream leather handbag I found this weekend for a bit too much money. It was PERFECT. It was totally love at first site. But I can't do it. I just can't spend the money right now, even though I am THIS close to doing it. I know I won't regret it, but that's beside the point. Sigh. When I can't have something I really want, I am like a kid. WAHHHH!!!
Posted by: steph | May 04, 2009 at 08:03 PM
Steph - I can completely relate to your comment about the bag. Sometimes I'll find the perfect thing and want it so badly but I either can't afford it or know I shouldn't buy it. It's not easy, but, you know I've never really had regrets about not buying something. Then again, I've never had regrets about spending an ABSURD amount of money on a bright orange (my favorite color!) Marc Jacobs bag either...hahaha...It's not always that easy to resist!
Posted by: Positively Present | May 04, 2009 at 08:22 PM