Our friends Alex and Nancy just got a new puppy. This puppy, whose name is Georgia Rose, is a labradoodle, a breed that simply oozes cuteness. This is a puppy whose cuteness level is such that, had Joseph Stalin seen her, he would have taken a break from enslaving Eastern Europe to sit on the kitchen floor and tickle her under the chin, saying "Awwww... widdums widdums widdums."
All of this has had the effect of making me look a little askance at my own two dogs. Our border collie, Doolin, is far too smart for her own good, or anyone else's, and thinks she is in charge of the entire household. She worries constantly, can't sit still, and is generally a walking encyclopedia of doggy neuroses. Our other dog, Grendel, looks like a genetics experiment gone horribly wrong. He has the muzzle of a boxer, the eyes of a pug, the build of a pitbull, the coloration of a German shepherd, and the tail of a husky. If Mary Shelley had written about dogs, she would have come up with something like Grendel.
So, to summarize: Alex and Nancy have a dog who looks like the main character in a children's story called "Precious the Puppy Finds a New Home;" we have Dr. Caninestein and Her Monster.
I know this is unfair, and I must state for the record that I don't love our dogs any less because of it. And I can reassure myself in the knowledge that I am hardly the only person who has felt this way when looking at the lives other people lead. It's so common that psychologists have a name for it. They call it the "Grass-Is-Greener Syndrome" -- and it applies to way more than just dogs.
A couple of psychologists, David Schkade and Daniel Kahneman, studied this phenomenon, and found out just how universal this perception is. They asked students at colleges in the Midwest to assess their own happiness, and the imagined happiness of students at colleges in California. Across the board, the Midwestern students thought the Californian students would be happier -- the greater natural beauty, better climate, and greater (perceived) cultural opportunities were all cited as reasons. In fact, in actual assessments of satisfaction, the students in the Midwest and in California averaged the same scores.
Other studies have confirmed this -- one by Gilbert et al. showed that college faculty members, when asked to predict their happiness levels if they got tenure, were strikingly inaccurate at doing so -- the ones who were happy pre-tenure were, relatively speaking, still pretty happy folks whether or not they received tenure, and the unhappy ones stayed unhappy even if they received full professorships.
In my own case, I go through this kind of thing every winter. Being a southerner, borne of ancestry from the temperate climes of the Mediterranean, I begin to dread the oncoming upstate New York cold starting some time in mid-August. I whine to my poor, long-suffering wife incessantly, usually ending with, "... if we only lived somewhere warm. *heavy sigh*" What the aforementioned studies show is that basically, I would still be a grouchy curmudgeon even if I lived in the Florida Keys, which I suppose will trigger a different kind of Grass-Is-Greener Syndrome in my wife.
Honestly, I know that switching things up isn't the answer. A woman I have known for years seems to think that's the answer -- and as a result, has moved more times than I can keep track of, and has had about twelve different jobs. Each time, the next place, the next job, is going to be "the right one." And I don't believe she's a bit happier now than she was twenty years ago. While I do my share of complaining, her answer to the problem is not one I'd want to copy.
Truthfully, I'm pretty satisfied with my life. I have a wonderful (and tolerant) spouse, a great job, opportunities to play music with some amazing musicians, a nice house in a beautiful part of the country. If it's colder than I like, well, nowhere is perfect, and the other aspects of being here are pretty cool. Even if my dogs are more suited to a science fiction novel than they would be to a children's picture book.