Friday, May 8, 2009

Being Happy With What You Have

Sitting here, plumbing for an entry idea, I was reminded of a conversation from our recent Cinco De Mayo party. Many of the attendees lived in our neighborhood, and hence all have the same basic home layout, save for minor differences. Radiators in different places, slight modifications to bathroom layout, closet layout, etc. One of the largest differences was the size of the inter-room wall openings on the first floor. House here either have very wide openings between rooms, to the point that the walls almost don't exist, or they have considerably narrower openings, though still much wider than a standard door.

What was funny was that, universally, or at least partysially, everyone wanted the layout that they didn't have. It's a classic case of "grass is always greener." Kate and I have the very large openings. I thought I liked them until we had to lay out our living room furniture. Then suddenly smaller openings were looking better. Plus, the houses with the smaller openings have rooms that feel cozier, and oddly, larger. But those with the smaller openings feel constricted by them, and wish for the more open floor plan.

But what's the point of pinning after something trivial that you don't have, and won't have, when what you do have is good in its own way? That "grass is always greener" mentality can help motivate people to improve themselves and their surroundings, but I think it also leads to unnecessary suffering. Constantly judging your stuff against the merits of other people's stuff can lead you to undervalue what you have and see only the negatives. But this sort of comparison thinking is hardwired into the human brain. Maybe a more useful way to use this pattern of thought is to compare what you have against what other people don't have. This sort of comparison generates a feeling of gratitude instead of jealousy. It makes you appreciate what you have instead of rejecting it. Plus it generates empathy and compassion towards those on the "don't have" side of the comparison.

The problem with "grass is always greener" is that it's an unending cycle. There's always another fence to look over, another yard to envy. You can't ever be satisfied. As soon as you plunder one yard, you'll be looking to the next, constantly moving forward with blinders on.

Instead, the next time you find yourself gazing longingly at someone else's lawn remember that at least you have one. Some people have to get by with bare dirt and scrubby rocks. Appreciate what you have.

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