Sometimes the grass is really greener somewhere else.
But do you know why?
We can so quickly create judgments or jump to conclusions about our lives, or others’ lives. These thoughts can easily hijack our emotions and derail our happiness.
Last month we got an unseasonable amount of rain in a short period of time and the low spot where are yard meets our neighbors sat with water for too long and a lot of his grass died. For about a week his usually amazing yard had a huge long patch of sad yellowed grass and ours looked better by comparison. Then his lawn care service came out and added dirt and grass seed.
I have never seen such fast-growing, easter-basket green, thick grass. Because of the way they mow, and the fact that our yard has an assortment of grasses, as well as some clover and weeds we keep trying to kill, there is a clear straight line between our yards, and I was struck with the funny thought that the grass was truly much greener in my neighbor’s yard.
And then I was struck with a deep sense of contentment and gratitude, because I do not wish I had my neighbor’s life. He is an older man who never married, and has no children. His yard is impeccable but he rarely uses it. There are no children to trample the grass or use up the budget that might be spent on keeping a nice lawn.
So our yard is trampled by little feet and full of chairs, a sandbox, and an old but much beloved fort. Every spring my husband and I contemplate how much to spend on grass seed, never for a moment considering taking on the monthly cost of hiring a yard service. I think he enjoys mowing, and I enjoy the mix of grasses that look more natural. And with four little boys our yard would never stay perfect anyway.
My thought for you in this is that when you measure one thing in one way, you might accurately conclude that the grass is greener somewhere else. But before you let a quick observation rob your contentment, stop to consider more of the factors that matter. If you know your values and you are living them, then green grass might not be your priority right now.
My neighbor’s grass is greener, and I know it’s because we’ve made different decisions than he has, from hiring a lawn care service to getting married and having kids. His grass is greener and I’m ok with that.
Reading about Progress, Purpose, and Happiness
Looking at perspective on a much bigger scale, I finished reading The Progress Paradox, by Gregg Easterbrook, last night. Reading the book had a similar effect on me as remembering to be content with my green and less-green hodgepodge grassy yard, but on a magnitude of about ten times greater in scope and consequence. I’m struggling to find a way to tell you about the book, trying to resist just telling you “oh you have to read it for yourself” because you might not have the time – or like me you might have a stack of books in line in front of it.
Anyway, I read the first 2-3 chapters over the summer and was greatly encouraged at his detailed summary of all the many ways in which life has improved for the average American in the past 100 years. From crime, education, and literacy to the environment, public health, and even human virtue he shows that by many of the important metrics of civilized life, practically everything has gotten better for us – the average citizen – than for those who lived just a couple of generations ago.
Then he explains why we have trouble enjoying how good we have it, and why sometimes we aren’t even aware of some improvements, specifically because of what the news and media choose to cover. In a really interesting section he shows how elites and certain other parties benefit from bad news and are inclined to spread and exaggerate it. (see pg 101) One primary reason is that we look to powerful people for advice and support when things are bad, but they are less important or sought out when things are going well.
A prominent reason we don’t realize many things have improved as much as they have, and are as good as they are, is because the news media is internally incentivized to be negative. He gives specific examples of distorted or slanted coverage, where a possible crisis was covered, but resulting solutions were not. But his lists are wise and fairly comprehensive. He goes on to list complaint proficiency as another contributing factor; as humans we are really good at complaining about things. We also tend to reject the idea of our own abundance, and we can even become guilty of ‘complaint yearning’ which is when we welcome bad circumstances because we feel they take the pressure off of us to perform, or to work hard to improve our situation.
This is because viewing ourselves as victims hinders us from helping others, embracing challenges, or practicing gratitude.
With extensive data and stories provided along these lines he paints a picture in the first 3 chapters of why we live in a world today where in most ways, most of life is getting better for most people, but we don’t feel or act as if this was the case.
I am totally guilty of this, and I know it, but have been at a slight loss for why and what to really do about it. Which of course is why I have been reading this book.
In the next section he goes in depth covering how we as a country are using our material wealth and prosperity, starting with a chapter titled ‘Portable Carpeted Dog Steps’. (Total sidenote, I actually saw one of these at a gas station on a short road trip last weekend. The steps were taken out of the back of a pickup truck, and set behind the suv parked nearby so that two big dogs could get out. When my husband first glanced over it was quite comedic because we could not tell where these huge steps had come from.) Moving on – he goes on to touch on something that it seems to me that you and I already know, that our consumer culture has met all of our needs and many of our wants, but has not delivered happiness. Every mom I know is aware of the modern trend toward simplicity, balance and minimalism – a trend that I think each of us can benefit from in some way. At any rate, all are coming to agree that the incredible abundance of our time can lead to stress, which is why one of the next books in my stack to read is The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, by Barry Schwartz.
In The Progress Paradox, Easterbrook suggests that what he calls ‘choice penalty’ is even harder for women, because the recent rise in personal freedom has given us less time to adjust to the innate stress that by nature accompanies an increase in options. (see pg 201) As a highly educated woman who has chosen for this season to stay at home with my kids, this idea really resonated with me, and I feel it is a partial answer to the restlessness I have felt in recent years. I don’t feel I am making use of my potential, but I feel conflicted because of my value for family and being home with my kids, especially when they are young.
Once our material needs are met, it is natural for us to move up the hierarchy of needs, seeking fulfillment and meaning of a less concrete nature. It is this search that is easily derailed into consumerism, which can distract but not fulfill us. After a certain level of income, the search for happiness when successful does not lead primarily to material riches, but the richness of relationship and connection that is in our DNA as humans.
One of my biggest takeaways from this book was that a greater sense of purpose must be found in order to enjoy and be at peace with whatever material abundance we do enjoy. Another was that relationship is key to happiness, but an increasing number of obstacles cause us to experience less connection with others, and to try to funnel that need and energy into other sources that cannot satisfy it. Finally, I was really impacted by his concluding section about how he recommends addressing current problems such as poverty. Among other things he argues convincingly that we should increase the minimum wage, and that while this would have a slight affect on the middle class, the affect on those below or near the poverty line would be significant, and that as a result we could all enjoy what we have with a clearer conscience. Such discussions related to social justice are ones that I have avoided but am starting to feel compelled to learn more about.
And as I stare out the window at my neighbor’s ‘Easter basket green’ grass, I think about perspective and responsibility: how important it is to look at the big picture, to be grateful for what I have (such as kids to trample the lawn), to practice gratitude, and to take ownership of my past decisions and the actions I take in the future.
I know that was a lot, what stood out to you?
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