Currently in her mid-forties, Ivanna* stares out the window in the seat across from me and lets out a long, defeated sigh.
“I know he’s a great guy,” she says of her partner. “But I just can’t help but wonder what else is out there. Can I really say goodbye to the dating world? To the excitement of meeting someone new?”
I’ve been seeing Ivanna for quite some time now. Up until this point, I’ve heard nothing but wonderful things about her boyfriend—how he helps her out around the house, how he’s reliable, how they have a great sex life. But maybe he’s one of those “good on paper” boyfriends, she says—you know, the type who you want to love but just can’t seem to for whatever reason. Or, we wonder, could it be that Ivanna is falling into the downward spiral of thinking the grass is greener on the other side?
What is the “Grass is Greener” mentality?
Whether you’re talking about your relationship, apartment, or job, having a “grass is greener” mentality involves continually feeling like a different option would be better. And it’s usually coupled with a lot of daydreaming and fantasizing about some alternate reality where things are simply (and unrealistically) perfect.
I see this mentality very often in relationships; someone will become frustrated with their partner and think to themselves, “I’m going to find someone who does like to do dishes, okay!?” This mentality also frequents the world of physical health, with many people buying into the idea that losing weight will bring them irrevocable happiness.
Where Does This Mentality Come From?
There’s no question in my mind that a huge part of the grass-is-greener mentality is cultural. No matter where we look, advertisements are constantly trying to convince us that buying that new shirt, weight loss pill, or iPad will make us happier. Think of all the shaving commercials out there that show a clean-shaven man proudly feeling his smooth face before being smooched by his glamorous, size zero girlfriend. If you use this razor blade, you too can have a woman like this.
And don’t even get me started on how apps like Tinder and Bumble are contributing to this phenomenon. If someone’s partner gets on their nerves, they know that a potential new mate is just one swipe away.
From a psychological perspective, there’s a word for this whole phenomenon: hedonic adaptation. The theory states that regardless of any negative or positive events that happen to us, we will eventually return to a relatively stable level of happiness.
Take this example: it’s a hot summer’s day and you’re outside sweating your butt off. You decide to pop into a grocery store to buy yourself some water. The moment you step in, a cold blast of air envelopes you. Ahhhh!!!!! You feel an immediate sense of relief and happiness. But after about 10 minutes of wandering through the store, you completely forget about the wonderful gift of air conditioning. Instead, you’re complaining about how long the line is, how they’re out of your favourite brand of cookies, and more. Hedonic adaptation, ladies and gentlemen.
Essentially, although we might experience something as pleasurable initially, over time it becomes our “new normal” and we become fixated on what else might bring us pleasure instead.
How to Get Off the Hedonic Treadmill
1. Show some appreciation for what you have in the now.
Many of us have the tendency to think about how good things used to be or how great things will be when… Rarely do you hear someone say, “In this moment, life is good!” I’ve fallen into this trap myself a number of times; as an entrepreneur, I’m always on the hunt for new opportunities to grow my business, though it’s important for me to stop and look at what I have accomplished every once in awhile.
I have a sticker right on my laptop that says, “Remember that once you dreamed of being where you are now,” and I find myself feeling more centred every time I glance at it. Don’t forget this yourself!
2. Remember that you, too, have flaws.
As I mentioned, the grass-is-greener mentality can be a big one when it comes to dating, partially because the convenience of dating now makes it a lot easier to just “ghost someone” or write them off. And while I’m not saying you should stay in a relationship that doesn’t make you happy, it’s important to remember that no one is perfect. Give yourself a reality check and realize that every couple argues sometimes, every partner will do things that piss you off, and you, too, do things that drive your significant other absolutely crazy. Be humble and have grace.