This is the third piece in my series of “Grass is Greener” posts (see the first and second here). This post focuses on the role that emotional deprivation may contribute in the development and reinforcement of ‘grass is greener’ thinking, as well as how grass is greener process diminishes people’s decision-making capabilities.

The feeling of needing ‘more’ or wanting ‘better’ are hallmarks of grass is greener processes. People want more than they currently have. They want to feel more excitement, more fulfillment, more happiness, more passion, live out the perfect fantasy image in their minds and so on. These feelings and desires drive grass is greener thinking.

As discussed previously, grass is greener processes are generally a projection of these internal feelings onto external environments. Something outside of us always has to be better in order to make the inside feel the way we want to. And while this isn’t completely unrealistic since your environment has an impact on how you feel, people stuck in grass is greener processes find themselves continuously looking to change environments with the hope that the feeling of “the next one” will last indefinitely — unlike the others before it. The relationships, careers, etc., all become not good enough, not fulfilling enough. The problem isn’t creating the feeling, it’s getting it to last that’s the issue.

Let’s go back for a moment to those feelings of need — excitement, passion, fulfillment, and happiness. I’ve worked with many people across the world on ‘grass is greener’ processes, and these feelings of need carry almost completely across the board (if not completely). While there are other contributing factors to grass is greener processes (perfectionism, fear of settling, fear of boredom, to name a few) people who struggle with this issue tend to feel generally deprived of excitement, passion, fulfillment, and happiness.

As a result, a fear of complacency develops. Why stay in this current situation if it’s not feeling as good as I know I can feel when I’m feeling excited, passionate, fulfilled, and happy? The underlying thought is something along the lines of, “I know I can achieve all of these emotional states. I have before, so I just need the right situation and that will all return.”

The problem is, when grass is greener thinking is acted out, those states do tend to return — but only for a brief period of time before the same process starts up again.

The common denominator in all of this is an emotional deprivation that leads to an emotional starvation. One could say, in many ways, that the grass is greener syndrome is a product of misaligned expectations and a difficulty coping with the internal sacrifices of long-term commitments.

To elaborate, every commitment comes with pros and cons, including sacrifices of some kind. Being in a relationship means not being in other relationships. There may be certain desires, qualities, or needs that aren’t fulfilled in this relationship, but perhaps you’ve determined that the most important needs are fulfilled, which is what brought you into the relationship in the first place.

However, as times goes on, the weight of the sacrifices begins to feel like you’re giving up too much. What you thought you could do without, it turns out is not possible to sacrifice. You begin to feel starved, and look for a way to get these parts of yourself nourished. What is being presently fulfilled doesn’t feel important anymore as the focus goes fully to what you’re feeling deprived of. (Of course, what is currently being fulfilled comes into full view when it’s no longer being fulfilled later, which is exactly what reinforces grass is greener processes for people).

The more one acts on grass is greener processes, the unfortunate result is it begins to diminish one’s trust in their ability to make significant decisions for themselves. So people often end up in a constant state of not knowing what to do next when the grass is greener feelings surface again. “If I stay here, I’m unhappy. If I start over, I’ll be happy for a bit, but I know I’ll likely end up back where I am.”

What’s the Solution?

As much as it would be nice to have some quick behavioral steps to resolve grass is greener processes, it unfortunately doesn’t work that way. You’re not just trying to change a behavior (like going to the gym), you’re actually trying to change your emotional processes — how to experience fulfillment, excitement, passion, and happiness without having to constantly start over to induce these states; and also to restructure an emotionally-connected set of expectations for long-term commitments.

In short, these are process changes, which generally will take some time in therapy to work on. I have seen many people work through the other end of ‘grass is greener’ issues, and while it isn’t necessarily a quick fix, if you want to resolve this process for yourself, it is well worth the time and emotional investment for your future.