Wanderings – Is the grass always greener?

A few years ago, my wife and I began watching a UK property show called Escape to the Country. The show’s host helps a potential home owner move to a rural spot in the United Kingdom by showing them two-to-three homes that fit what they are “looking for”. A final mystery house is viewed that goes outside of the proverbial box for what the home owners want. Sometimes the host gets it right, other times – not so much. I don’t get invested in what the people on the show choose. I watch for the homes and the scenery. For me, it’s more of a travel show than a home show. Every time I watch, I wonder if the grass is really greener on the other side.

I was thinking about that a lot this past weekend while stuck in traffic. A birthday-related day trip to Laval found this caravan driver stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic in the Montréal suburbs. Québec is known for good food and not so good roads. Another failing: Québec infrastructure projects forced the traffic from one major east-west highways through the city to funnel on to the other. Despite traffic reports saying the contrary, it took me nearly an hour to travel eight kilometres. The return trip was longer. I had a lot of thinking time as the lane on either side of me seemed to move faster and sooner than the one I was in.

The saying “the grass is greener on the other side” is a negative comparison phrase. It’s oft-used when it looks like someone is doing better than yourself, or when something looks more appealing than your present circumstances. Another similar saying is “Comparison is the theft of joy.” That phrase is attributed to Mark Twain, Theodore Roosevelt, and C.S. Lewis – impressive. The phrase works regardless of the author. Comparison does take the joy away from being happy with what you have. A person can be content with one shiny object. However, if they see someone has two shiny objects – comparison rears its ugly head and that contentment diminishes.

Sometimes it’s difficult not to compare the colour of the grass. That area has amenities that my area does not. One street has sidewalks, mine does not. There are more jobs in that town than there are in my town. This village always gets the new things, the other village never does. A part of my day job relies on pointing out those differences and asking why they exist. Just as we compare or over-compare, we also over think the reasons this happens.

Parked on the highway, with traffic lanes moving faster all around me, I think I figured out this philosophical non-dilemma. The comparison – if tempered – can help you appreciate what you do have or what exists around you.

Sheryl Crow’s 2002 hit Soak Up the Sun has a great line in it. “It’s not having what you want; It’s wanting what you’ve got.”

Okay, so your community doesn’t have an indoor pool, but you can drive down the road to use one. Not having one on your doorstep shouldn’t stop you from going somewhere else to use one. The arena down the street doesn’t have a walking track, but there are two down the road that do. Your neighbour has a bigger house, or a better car, or a cool new thing – do you have a home? A car? Some things you like? Good. Casting out and looking for grass that’s greener than your own belittles the fact you have grass to begin with. Comparisons get easier to make when you can see there is a line delineating one side from another.

I will admit that while I was looking at the sea of brake lights in front of me, I wished for some greener grass: a highway that didn’t resemble a Walmart parking lot on Black Friday; or maybe a snowplow attached to the front of my caravan to make short work out of the obstructions. But, if I was not on the side of the grass I began the day on, I would not have gone on the trip with my family to begin with.

The grass isn’t greener at all – except maybe in the UK country side. Or that could be an illusion too. That is one comparison I look forward to making sometime soon.

This column was originally published in the November 29, 2023 print edition of The Morrisburg Leader.