Expat Life: Is the grass always greener?
This article was originally published in the February/March edition of Expat Ladies in Bangkok, here.
The most commonly used proverb in the English language is “the grass is always greener” and it’s probably something you’ve heard mentioned by someone else, or even referred to yourself, on more than one occasion. It’s an easily understood phrase often used to express discontent, envy and jealousy.
Reflecting on “the grass is always greener” comes from the idea of looking at a neighbour’s lawn and seeing it as better looking, healthier and overall greener then your own. There could be dead patches of grass and it could be overrun with weeds, but in reality you’re just unable to identify anything negative about it whilst also ignoring everything positive about your own.
Our troubles in life come from when we believe in this myth that “the grass is always greener” and feeling that other people have the better lives whilst we become depressed, anxious and persecuted with the perception that we have so little in comparison.
I hadn’t given this much thought until recently when a conversation with an Expat acquaintance revealed his desire to be reincarnated as an Expat wife. On further discussion, I realised that his envy was aroused by the ‘limitless amount of free time’ that he perceived he would have along with the ability to do what he wanted, when he wanted and all without the pressure of work, stress and financial obligations.
This notion of reincarnation was, for him, like winning the lottery as he dreamt of endless days doing just as he wished. It seems that whilst he was working in an air conditioned office in his suit and tie, the thoughts of being able to walk barefoot along a beach became more appealing than the everyday routine of going to work.
“The secret is to learn to want what you have and not want what you don’t have” – Buddha
Obviously this is a very romantic, idealistic thought compared to what it really means to be an Expat wife, where the free time often becomes more of a burden than something to be treasured. I’m also sure that, for many Expat wives, if they were given the choice and opportunity to pursue a career of their own this would be preferred rather than being faced with the constant reminders that such possibilities and independence were left behind long ago.
A great example of the belief that ‘the grass is always greener” isn’t what it seems from the other person’s perspective whose life is in envy. However, it appears that this is not always considered as both these scenarios are played out within the realms of Expat life and between the relationship of husband and wife. Consideration towards acknowledging a partner’s situation, and how it could be affecting them, is often avoided as husbands believe their wives to be ‘lucky’ and vice versa.
Naturally this can have an adverse effect on the relationship as feelings of resentment appear along with the reluctance to pursue anything other than fulfilling our own needs and enhancement of self-satisfaction. The perception of ‘the grass is always greener’ in this instance places an unnecessary strain on the relationship and can cause irreparable damage if the people involved are unable to see how their situation as Expats affects them both differently as individuals .
The perception to many outside the Expat experience is that our ‘grass is always greener’ as we are considered ‘lucky’ to live in a country that they would like the opportunity of visiting one day. Despite the fact that someone’s holiday destination has become our reality, with the similar day-to-day routines of everyone else’s lives, it seems that as Expats we no longer have the right to discuss or acknowledge any difficulties that we may be experiencing.
Whilst our reality also involves coping with the daily challenges of a different language and culture, most often friends and family don’t wish to understand or reason with any other perspective than it being paradise. Becoming unable to share our thoughts and feelings, whilst also trying to maintain relationships where nobody seems to want to empathise with our perspective of life, often becomes testing and unfulfilling.
Trying to live up to other peoples’ expectations that our grass is much, much greener than theirs often feels impossible and can add to the strain of our Expat existence; if we can’t be happy here and everyone else is telling us that we should be, then where can we be happy? This can lead us to start questionning ourselves and begin another vicious circle of ‘the grass is always greener’ as we start looking at other Expat lawns and comparing them to our own.
But, are we allowed the opportunity to sit back and focus on the greatness of our lawn, without feeling arrogant and better than others, if everyone around us is determined to make us feel that our lawn is so much better than theirs? I believe we have become conditioned to denounce our own lawn, even if we don’t want to, in an effort to make others feel better about theirs. However, if we don’t appreciate the positive aspects of our lives, no-one else will.
From either perspective, by denying ourselves recognition of the goodness in our very own lives, we believe that we have nothing good to work with and are without the capacity to work with it. By nature we are conditioned to focus on what we need to have, rather than what we have already. As a result we lose focus, self-confidence and hope.
Nobody can understand, or appreciate, how it feels to live the life you live, except for you, therefore to expect anyone else to understand or acknowledge your difficulties, challenges or frustrations can often be futile, as in turn, you cannot appreciate theirs. But empathy, rather than sympathy, is really the core of what we all need to feel to believe that our experiences are being acknowledged, rather than dismissed.
Learning to develop a sense of empathy starts with listening to what is being said, rather than passing judgement, whilst being objective and learning to balance our perspectives compared to our perception of what we believe it means to have perfect grass. As a result a heightened awareness of someone else’s experience is gained, alongside the key issues they face and how they affect them.
For us to dismantle the myth that “the grass is always greener” and that it is possible to have someone else’s life, or indeed someone else’s lawn, we must also start to recognise that we only have our own lawn which we must tend and water the best way we know how. If we accept our reality for what it is we have the chance to develop it, to improve it and to grow it.