The Grass Is Greener Syndrome, Why Being Dissatisfied Is Good


When I eat at restaurants with my friends, I’m often indecisive in ordering. I take a while because I’m afraid of being disappointed when my dish arrives. I’ll look at my plate and become unhappy with its small portion, saltiness, or lack of freshness. Then I’ll look over at my friend’s and covet it for its girth, balanced flavor, or fresh-looking ingredients. Buyer’s remorse has hit me once again.

But buyer’s remorse is a only subset of my more general grass-is-greener syndrome.

This condition causes me to be unsatisfied with what I have. It makes me suspect others have it better, that it’s cooler to be in their shoes, that the pan-fried rice I ordered is smaller than my friend’s pad thai.

I applied to Columbia Journalism School as an undergraduate senior at Columbia University. Since the J-school has a lofty reputation and top-notch faculty, I kept my expectation of being accepted low. (I knew their acceptance rate for the class of 2011 was about 32%, but I had no idea what other applicants were like. They could’ve scooped some political scandal or, like me, have hardly any experience. I always suspected truly good journalists don’t need to attend journalism school.) As I filled out the application, I laughed, “I’ll go through the motions, fill out the form, take a couple of tests. It’s not like I’ll actually get in.” To my surprise, I did. Satisfaction and validation follow. Then I think, “Wait…Why would they accept me? That probably means they’re not as good a school as I thought because, well, they accepted me.”

I ultimately declined the J-school’s acceptance offer. Most of my decision was based on the cost of attendance (estimated by the J-school at about $75,000 for ten months) and the low percentage of students that have full-time jobs at graduation (50% according to an information session I attended in 2009). These two factors made their journalism degree a financial liability that outweighed any conferred career asset, especially with the current disruptions to the American media industry. But a small part of my decision was also influenced by the grass-is-greener syndrome. I could attend Columbia Journalism if I wanted, and I had gotten what I’d spent several months preparing for. But having gotten it, I was immediately dissatisfied.

Of course, a balance is needed between being proud of past accomplishments and striving for future goals; between complacency and dissatisfaction. But I think it’s good to err on the side of constructive dissatisfaction. It’s the feeling of wanting more that gets people off their couch to do something creative.