The False Beliefs of The Grass is Greener Syndrome: Why Settling Can Be Good for You

On the episode “Mind and the Matter” of The Twilight Zone, the protagonist, Archibald Beechcrot, a misanthrope, wills humanity’s disappearance. In the aftermath, he learns that a world without people is boring and meaningless, accepting that a planet which includes them, even with all of their flaws, is better than one without them, or even one wherein everyone else is exactly like him. Archibald exhibited signs of the popular, and non-clinical, term ‘The Grass is Greener Syndrome’, which is defined as the inability to experience the goodness of one’s life because he or she believes it could be much better otherwise.

The syndrome can be general, about life on the whole, or specific, perhaps about one’s romantic relationship. Either way, as with Archibald, its captive believes that happiness lies elsewhere. Most of us, at several points in our lives, fall into the trap. I can’t even count how many times I’ve looked at an accomplishment, or thought about someone I was dating, wondering why it couldn’t be better. It’s even been a cliche in teenage romantic comedies, where the nerdy kid chases the popular girl while his equally nerdy best friend attempts to confess her love to him. So much of our lives are spent looking for the pot of gold, as though some thing or some one will finally make us happy. I love shows like The Twilight Zone because they present staged thought experiments, allowing their viewers to indirectly step onto greener pastures. And the idiom “Be careful what you wish for” is the moral of many of the episodes.

Much of our sadness and fear stems from these urges; our minds have ways of convincing us that life has even more to offer. Moreover, since the unknown is often either feared or idealized, the mind paints a brilliant image of our seemingly superior options. So, it’s not that I may meet a better romantic prospect; it’s that I’m going to find the love of my life. Of course it’s possible to find a better match, but unlikely for it to comprise perfection. Sometimes, our lives are as sad as they are because we firmly believe that other ones are happy, in a global sense. And the marketplace has a way of manipulating us by feeding us visions of the lives that could be, as though drinking a beer could help transform my world into the party of the year. But, they want us to believe that the beer is a step toward ecstasy.

Unfortunately, idealization helps sell products, books, and films; all of us want the blueprints for joy. And returning to the romantic example, Hollywood teaches us that beauty engenders it; all you need is the perfect partner. So, we’re often stuck in a cognitive loop: I’m unhappy because of X; I don’t have X because I’m unhappy. But, maybe we’re unhappy because X doesn’t exist. At some point, most of those on the dating carousal learn how to settle; it isn’t that they realize that they’ll never find the one but that they finally acknowledge his mythical nature. Good enough, a word frequently met with derision and loathing, is welcomed with outstretched arms. Good enough begins to mean: de-idealization. And reason finally frees the prisoner of delusional hope.

Our choices can be conceived of as each comprising a series of buckets for which one only has a limited number of coins to fill. While each bucket can be filled to the top, each individual doesn’t possesses enough coins to fill all of them up. Thus, each choice only allows us to consider our values (e.g. kindness, beauty, ambition) and to ask ourselves where we should place our finite number of coins. In essence, all of this means that “the one” is a fantasy. And some of the good romantic comedies will teach you that, the ones where the protagonist finally realizes that his best friend is a way better option than the beautiful girl he was initially chasing. However, the moral is always about the necessity for him to gain that kernel of wisdom experientially.

There are times when I struggle with this with my clients, trying to convince them of the dangers entailing their impulsive decisions. Most of the time, they don’t heed my advice, opting to learn on their own. But, for those with an open mind, shows like The Twilight Zone are usually good enough teachers.

The point of any romantic endeavor is to end up with the person you love, not someone you settle for. And, in this respect, I’m using ‘settle’ to mean what it usually does: to find yourself unhappy with the partner you chose. Maybe some of you will need to see for yourselves that no one is perfect or can make you happy (happiness being an end state here); and maybe some others will realize through argumentation that each person is an amalgamation of radiance and defect. But, if you find love and believe that someone waiting is better, your mindset is likely the problem.

In all of this, I’m not indicating that you should settle; I’m saying that to find love (or some semblance of romantic joy) you’ll have to. After you’ve deposited your coins, you’ll realize that something is missing, and for all of us, something always is.

2 Comments

  1. I always enjoy and appreciate your posts. I do think our entire culture suffers from this “grass is greener” issue. It’s easy to go to that place in a society that can show high value on external rather than internal worth. I have had so many teens *well- and adults) in sessions over the past several years who are anxious and fearful, generally feeling “less than”. Often, looking for that external thing that will create internal happiness or worth (belonging).

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s