Why Is It So Hard To Appreciate What We Possess?
I remember during the Covid-19 lockdown, I decided to buy an Amazon Kindle. The hype I went through before the Kindle arrived was indescribable. I was checking my email every hour.
I watched reviews upon reviews of the product on YouTube every day. I imagined myself becoming a superior reader after getting the Kindle. But upon getting it, I knew almost immediately that nobody’s turning into a great reader. The device was not as impressive as I imagined.
You’ve probably heard the saying,
“Pleasure isn’t in the fulfilment, it’s in the pursuit”.
This simple phrase summarises the Law of Covetousness introduced by Robert Greene in his book, The Laws of Human Nature. He goes into an interesting concept that you might find yourself very familiar with: The grass-is-always-greener syndrome.
The Grass-Is-Always-Greener Syndrome
You heard your colleague hyping up about a new restaurant. When you finally decided to give it a try, you find it unimpressive. Or you worked hard and finally got offered the job of your dream. But upon getting the job you find it stressful and not as exciting as you always imagined.
The reason you and I feel this way is because we humans are not easily contented with our circumstances. By some perverse force within us, the moment we get what we want, our minds begin to drift toward something new and imagine we can have better.
The more distant and unattainable this new object, the greater our desire to get it. This is the psychological equivalent of an optical illusion — if we get too close to the grass, we see that it is not so green after all.
One fascinating example of this syndrome at work is related to our childhood. Most of us remember a golden time of play and excitement. As we age, it becomes even more golden in our memory.
Of course, we conveniently forget the anxieties, insecurities, and hurts that plagued us in childhood and more likely consumed more of our mental space than the fleeting pleasures we remember. But because our youth is an object that grows more distant as we get older, we are able to idealise it and see it as greener than green.
So How Do You Approach This Syndrome?
The concise answer is you need to covet a deeper relationship to your reality. To understand this is quite simple:
You live in an environment that consists of the people you know and the places you frequent. This is your base reality. For whatever reasons associated with human nature, your mind is always drawn far away from this reality.
For instance, you dream of travelling to exotic places, but when you get there, you bring with you your discontented frame of mind. This inevitably results in less enjoyment of any activity that you do.
Or you imagine yourself surrounded by people who pay attention to your life as deep as you do. But when you present your “masterpiece”, you face the inevitable ignorance people display towards your work because they are too absorbed with themselves, just like you.
To escape from your constant desires that never lead to anything fulfilling, your task is to absorb your mind in what is nearest — your reality — instead of what is most distant.
With relationships, you can come to terms with the flaws of the other person, and even find some charm in their weaknesses, instead of spending your life searching for other perfect man or woman.
With the people in your circle, you can strive to connect on a deeper level. This includes talking less and listening more to their stories. There’s so much to learn from the people you deal with and this can be a source of endless fascination.
With the items you possess, you can make goals to utilise them completely before their end of life. For instance, make a realistic goal to complete the books you have bought before moving on to a new one; or set a deadline to make high-quality videos using the camera you had before buying a more sophisticated one; or take your time to enjoy the meal in front of you before thinking of eating something else; you get the idea.
In essence, appreciating the presence is the key step to connect yourself to reality. And appreciation lies in your action, not simply in your words.
Summing It All Up
The Law of Covetousness teaches us about the phenomenon of the grass-is-always-greener syndrome. Essentially, whatever we desire is always brighter in our imagination than in reality.
This phenomenon explains why advertisers are so successful at convincing us to get the things that would not benefit us at all. The best way to counteract this matter is to establish a deeper connection to our reality, as opposed to, always looking for something better. Practically speaking, this achieved by actively appreciating everything that you possess.
“At last I have what I wanted. Am I happy? Not really. But what’s missing? My soul no longer has that piquant activity conferred by desire… Oh, we shouldn't delude ourselves. Pleasure isn’t in the fulfilment, but in the pursuit.” — Pierre Beaumarchais
This article summarises the fifth chapter (The Law of Covetousness) from The Laws of Human Nature by Robert Greene.