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Why is the grass always greener?

September 27, 2011

Why is the grass always greener on the other side?  I thought about this as I walked through Lame Deer tonight on my way home from the IGA, where I picked up a dozen eggs and a carton of milk.  I enjoy my few nights a week on the reservation after work, where I can relax in the stillness of the valley, enveloped by the sweet smells of pine and sage.  I enjoy the haphazardness of uptown Lame Deer, where everything isn’t neat and tidy and manicured but still has its place.  I like that I always run into someone I know at the grocery store or the bank and that there are random dogs and horses roaming the streets.  I like that the streets and sidewalks are dusty and worn.

But I bet the sense of contentment I feel in Lame Deer isn’t shared by everyone who lives here.  Lame Deer residents probably look at the manicured, cookie-cutter, private neighborhoods in a place like Billings and think the same thoughts I think about Lame Deer:  it would be so peaceful and beautiful to live here.

Why do we as humans always long for something other than what we have?  In part because we don’t see the entirety of what we’d be getting if we had what we think we wanted.  If I lived in Lame Deer, I’d soon come to resent the dogs that form vicious packs in the neighborhoods; I’d tire of the dust and cracks and of never being able to escape the watchful eyes of my neighbors, who always knows someone who knows my family and can report every little move I make.  And if Lame Deer residents moved to Billings, they’d become frustrated with the constant movement, with the confinement of being surrounded by miles and miles of homes and buildings instead of hills and trees, and they’d come to scorn the lack of intimacy in relationships.

I wonder, also, if a natural longing is inherent in us as humans as part of God’s plan for our species.  If we didn’t long for things we didn’t have, we wouldn’t strive for self improvement or for societal improvement.  We wouldn’t visit new places, try new things, invent new tools, create new stories.

On the other hand, we might be a lot more content.  It seems to me that a lot of people spend an awful lot of time longing for things that they don’t have instead of enjoying and being thankful for the things that they do have (I, of course, am guilty of this too)–and I wouldn’t be surprised if heart disease and cancer were strongly linked to this trait we share as humans.  We need to find a better balance as a species–spend a little less time longing and a little more time enjoying.  I would like to have a lot of things that I don’t have:  a more powerful engine in my truck, a German-bred jumping horse, more closet space in my house, land of my own.  I probably won’t ever have most of these things, and I am okay with that because I realize I already have a hell of a lot more than millions of people in the world could ever imagine owning.  Besides, I don’t want to work my life away trying to make more and more money so that I can have more and more things–it’d be like running a never-ending race.  A rat race.

Perhaps this is the real reason I feel so content in Lame Deer:  there isn’t much visible wealth to envy, no big houses or luxury vehicles to look at and long for, which makes it easier to simply relax and enjoy what I have without wishing for more.

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