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Grass Is Greener

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"The seaweed is always greener
In somebody else's lake.
You dream about goin' up there,
But that is a big mistake!"
Sebastian, The Little Mermaid (1989), "Under the Sea"

A character lives in pretty terrible conditions. They're either oppressed, living in a slum or ghetto, their country's been bombed to shit and torn apart by war or they just generally have an unhappy life. So they idolize another country, somewhere they can go to be safe, somewhere they can go to have adventures, somewhere they can run away to, to live the life they want to live. They idolize it to the point of fantasy. The kid in the ghetto wants to move to the suburbs, the manic depressive doesn't know what he wants but he knows he wants something, the warrior wants to live in a land of peace, the immigrant in a land of opportunity.

If it's a musical, expect a Wanderlust Song or a "Somewhere" Song.

Whether or not they get there is another story. If they do, usually they find it isn't all it was cracked up to be, though often still preferable to where they came from. Often an enticement for the Kid Hero to go Down the Rabbit Hole, and maybe learn that Wanting Is Better Than Having. See also Crapsack Only by Comparison, for when the comparison to the idealized other world makes the character feel like their own world is a Crapsack World. Compare Mutual Envy. When a character wants to move from a small town to somewhere bigger, it's Small Town Boredom. When it's the opposite, it's Big Town Boredom.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Chio's School Road, Chio plays western games because she can't stand the glut of JRPG tropes, drama, and Pretty Boys in her own country's games. The western fandom got a kick out of it when they remembered the exact opposite complaints from their own game community.
  • In Glass Mask, Maya and Ayumi envy each other over their different home lives, while focusing on the disadvantages of their own. Maya envies Ayumi for having loving parents that support her choice of being an actress, while Maya's mother was more a believer in Tough Love, and the ample opportunities Ayumi has had to expand and improve her acting skills from childhood onward. Meanwhile, Ayumi envies Maya for having genuine friends that love and support her, with Ayumi realizing she's a Lonely Rich Kid, and her natural talent at acting. She also feels that Maya is a lot more free than Ayumi, who has been working for years to step out of the shadow of her actress mother and be seen as more than just the child of celebrities. When either mentions this to the other, they seem rather surprised to hear that.
  • Hensuki: Are You Willing to Fall in Love with a Pervert, as Long as She's a Cutie?: Keiki starts the series single and jealous of couples. Even when he discovers that his female friends may be interested in him and when he receives an unambiguous love confession from Mizuha, he's still jealous of other couples for having relationships devoid of bizarre perversions while all his potential love interests are perverts.
  • In Nyotai-ka, the young unlucky in love Salary Man Makoto wishes to become a woman because he's convinced women have it better in life because they can exploit young men for attention, money, and gifts. After he actually does become a woman (courtesy of a Goddess eager to teach him a lesson) he quickly discovers that young women face enormous pressure to "put out" in exchange for that attention, and that's just one of the downsides. Others include getting hit on constantly and getting groped on the train.
  • Space Adventure Cobra begins with this; Johnson is a Generic Guy with generic dreams of adventure chooses to pursue such a dream in a Lotus-Eater Machine, only for the machine to unlock memories of being Cobra, an adventurer with dreams of a simpler life who chose to get Magic Plastic Surgery and Laser-Guided Amnesia.
  • Vinland Saga, Vinland itself for the protagonist Thorfinn.

    Fan Works 
  • The Bolt Chronicles: In “The Funkmeister,” Mittens regrets not remaining in Paris with Berlioz, the cat who was her vacation fling. When Bolt enters the room shortly after, Rhino suggests she look closer to home for a sweetheart.

    Films — Animation 
  • An American Tail has the mice immigrating to the United States believing that "there are no cats in America, and the streets are paved with cheese". But once they get there, not only are the working conditions even worse than back in Eastern Europe, but things don't look to improve any time soon.
  • Beauty and the Beast: "There must be more than this provincial life!" Belle is reading a story about a prince in disguise...
  • Lampshaded in Chicken Run by Rocky. While talking with Ginger about how life is outside of the Chicken Farm, Rocky tries to gently tell Ginger not to get her hopes up about how life is in the outside world in his efforts to continue covering up his lie about being able to fly.
  • The Little Mermaid (1989): Ariel's desire to go up to the surface, as lampshaded by Sebastian in the song "Under the Sea."
  • In Over the Hedge, one of the porcupines compares grass stuck in his quills to the grass in the subdivision, and declares that it actually is greener on the other side.
  • The Prince and the Pauper: Both Prince Mickey and Pauper Mickey want what the other has. The prince wants the pauper's freedom and ease of life, while the pauper wants the prince's power and prestige. In each case, they learn that it's not all it's cracked up to be when the responsibilities of royalty and the downtrodden nature of life on the streets come back to bite them both.
  • Shrek Forever After: Shrek has grown tired of being a family man and celebrity among the local villagers, and longs for the days where he was a "real ogre", feared by villagers and actually had privacy. He gets his wish, and soon begins to understand the consequences of his actions and how important he was to the grand scheme of things; among other things, his children no longer exist, and Fiona's parents have been erased from existence. Best summed up in this exchange between himself and Donkey near the climax:
    Donkey: If your life was so perfect, then why'd you sign it all away to Rumpelstiltskin in the first place?
    Shrek: Because I didn't know what I had until it was gone!

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Duets: Frustration with his dull life as a traveling salesman and a family that didn't seem to appreciate him (along with a healthy dose of beta-blockers) led Todd Woods to drop everything and pursue a cross-country karaoke competition.
  • After the climax of Election, McAllister moves from Omaha, Nebraska to New York City. McAllister thinks of his new life in New York is "exciting" compared to his old life in Omaha, although he is now living in a ridiculous small apartment instead of a house, and has a more humble job as a museum tour guide, probably earning less with a much higher cost of living. The implication of it all is that McAllister is just delusional.
  • In Just One of the Guys, Terry Griffith imagines that life would be easier as a male. She learns otherwise.
  • The phrase is used Lucky Number Slevin as a matter of lifestyle rather than location, where the title character, Slevin, and a crime boss known as "The Rabbi" have a conversation about how he can be both a gangster and a rabbi. When asked point-blank how that works, he turns uncomfortable and admits to being a "bad man" who (as he regains his momentum) doesn't so much justify it as he is both "what could have been" and "what could not", and "[his] grass is always green".
  • Spoofed in the satire Water (1985). Baxter is the governor of this minor British colony in the Caribbean, and has just received word that the suits back in London are shutting down the colony and shipping the natives off elsewhere. Baxter is griping that he's the only one who seems to be angry about this.
    Fitzhugh: I suppose they all want to go where the grass is greener.
    Baxter: (smoking a joint) They'll find it a lot more expensive.
  • In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy wanted to go somewhere "Over The Rainbow".

  • The Prince and the Pauper is the trope namer for swapping roles out of a desire to live the other's life, as Prince Edward and Tom Canty do just that. The Prince thinks Tom Canty's life sounds like fun until he has to live it, and sees the horrible poverty and squallor that his people have to live in. At first, Tom is miserable and frightened as the King of England, but he gradually gets used to his new life and dreads having to become a pauper again, until seeing his mother snaps him out of it and he begs to have his old life back.
  • Nina Tanleven: Discussed in The Ghost in the Third Row after Nina's first visit to Chris's house. While she's happy at home, Nina thinks that she also kind of likes things at her friend's house, since it's always occupied and nobody's ever lonely (in stark contrast to Nina's own home where it's just she and her Dad). However, after some consideration, she decides she'd probably go crazy if she had to live there for real.
  • This is a plot point in "The Scrambled States of America." Kansas is sick of being stuck in the middle of the country and never meeting any new states, so he decides to have a party and invite all the other states. At the party, the states all decide to switch places. After the states switch places and a few days pass, the states realize they weren't as happy as they thought, so they all go back to their original places.
  • In Song of the Lioness, Alanna feels stifled by Tortall's rigid view of gender (rightly so, mind) and goes traveling abroad after King Roald pardons her for her Sweet Polly Oliver deception. When she meets the ex-princess of Sarain, though, she's informed that the consensus among their nobility was that she ought to have been put to death for it.
  • In The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, Demane has found he's not a particular fan of war and violence, so he often thinks about the peaceful place he came from. He even calls the place nothing other than 'the green hills'.
  • Bad Mermaids: So many young mermaids have been wishing for legs that the mermaid queen Arabella Cod started an initiative to give mermaids legs so they can spend a summer on land. The vast majority opt to return to the sea once their time is up.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The 100 has Earth serve as this for the people living on The Ark space station. Given their cramped quarters, lack of resources, and completely sterile and artificial environment, the wide open and natural world they see from orbit seems like it must be a paradise. They even have a religion where Earth serves as their version of Heaven.
    • In Season 2, the people living underneath Mount Weather are revealed to have a similar view of the Earth's surface.
  • Breaking Bad: After all eleven witnesses in his case are systematically killed in prison (in the span of three minutes no less), Hank stumbles back home for a drink, and he muses to Walt (who, unbeknownst to Hank, was the one who orchestrated the event) that he had a summer job in college marking trees for logging in the forest. He didn't enjoy it back then, since it meant hiking through the thick wilderness, getting sunburned and bit by mosquitos, but now he thinks he should've enjoyed it more knowing how exhausting his job is now.
    Hank: Tagging trees is a lot better than chasing monsters.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959): In "Once Upon a Time", the janitor Woodrow Mulligan is driven buggy by the high prices and everyday annoyances of 1890. He steals an experimental time machine and travels forward to 1961, which he assumes will be a utopia. The noise and even higher prices of the then-present convince him that he prefers living in his own time.

  • Lush's "Single Girl": The song begins with "I don't want to be a single girl"... and then after she finds love and endures some fights and annoyances, the song ends with "I just want to be a single girl".
  • Tom Waits: "I see a red rose blooming, on another man's vine..." from "Another One's Vine" from Blood Money.
  • The message of R.E.M.'s "Everybody Hurts" is that everybody's got troubles that they're struggling with and as long as we support one another, we'll make it through them.
  • The first verse of "Wouldn't It Be Good" by Nik Kershaw is someone with unspecified problems (the closest we get is "the cold is biting") saying how much they envy someone else's life. The second verse is the person they envy saying real problems are when "the heat is stifling", and the first person should be grateful they don't have to deal with that.
  • Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car," about wanting to escape a suffocating life of poverty and dependence, only to find yourself repeating the same pattern once you've escaped.

  • Elisabeth: A particularly dark version in "Nichts, nichts, gar nichts" when touring an asylum The Empress contemplates how much easier her life would be if she would just let herself go insane like the patients within, yet decides against it as it would seem to be too much work to stay mad.
  • Hair: Manchester, England, England, across the Atlantic sea...
  • Little Shop of Horrors: "Far from Skid Row, I dream I'll go, somewhere that's greeeeeeeeen!"
  • Newsies: Santa Fe, my old friend, I can't spend my whole life dreamin', though I know that's all I seem inclined to do! I ain't getting any younger, and I wanna start brand new! I need space and fresh air! Let 'em laugh in my face, I don't care! Save my place, I'll be there.
  • RENT: "We'll open up a restaurant in Santa Fe, sunny Santa Fe would be nice. We'll open up a restaurant in Santa Fe, and leave this to the roaches and mice!"
  • Seussical The Musical: "They say breezes are warm there and people are kind, maybe it's something like Heaven. I close my eyes and I see in my mind skies of bluest blue, and I'm sure it's true... Solla Sollew..."
  • West Side Story: "I'd like to be in America! Okay by me in America!"

    Video Games 
  • Conker's Bad Fur Day: Conker realizes only after becoming rich and powerful like he always wanted to be that he had everything he wanted all along. Only by then, it was too late.
    Conker: It's true what they say, the grass is always greener. And you don't really know what it is you have, until it's gone...
  • Well, not really that he wanted to go to a different country or anything, but...Roxas from Kingdom Hearts II became jealous of the visions he had of Sora and his friends. To the point where he actually betrayed and left Organization XIII because he wanted friends and love so badly. The result? He gets tricked by DiZ into merging with Sora. Not quite what he wanted.
  • The Legend of Zelda
    • A variation: in The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, even though Koholint Island seems like a perfectly fine place to live and nobody else (besides the hero) ever thinks of leaving, Marin wishes to leave and travel the world like a seagull. Even though the island turns out to be All Just a Dream, if you never die in a run of the game it's shown that she gets her wish.
    • What drove Ganon into wanting to get his hands on the three Triforce parts in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker was that he envied the winds that blew on the lush green landscape of Hyrule while his country suffered constantly punishing winds that brought only death.
  • Prayer of the Faithless: After his defeat, Emperor Daigo admits that human society is sinful and corrupt due to how many Necessarily Evil actions he had to commit to satisfy his paranoid citizens' demands. He wonders if the relatively more innocent Manna will inherit the planet and build a better society, but Trill points out that the Manna are also flawed due to their conformism.

    Visual Novels 
  • Daughter for Dessert: In the “good” Lily epilogue, the protagonist casts off the life of responsibility that he has led for his whole adulthood thus far, wanting to have adventures with the love of his life.


    Western Animation 
  • 101 Dalmatians: The Series: In "Lucky To Be Alone", Lucky gets tired of living with 98 brothers and sisters and wants more personal space. Pongo and Perdita get the idea to send him to stay with his wealthy cousins, the Vandercreams, where he gets to stay in a massive mansion with a room all to himself, with a butler, and all the luxuries he can imagine. While there are some things he likes and other things he doesn't, the thing he ended up missing the most was being able to spend time with his family.
  • As Told by Ginger:
    • Discussed in the theme song. The singer notes that despite having been told this by someone, when comparing the "grass" themselves, they found that it "seemed different, yet exactly the same."
    • The episode "T.G.I.F" has this as the plot, with Ginger staying briefly staying over with the posh Gripling family.
  • In the Family Guy episode "Who's Brian Now?", after learning that he had another family prior to the Griffins, Brian decides to go live with the Henderson family after seeing how wealthy, smart, and sophisticated they are, and how much more he has in common with them than with the Griffin family. But not long afterwards, Brian realizes that the Hendersons don't really see or care about him as anything more than just a pet, while the Griffins, despite all their issues and flaws, have always treated Brian as a member of the family.
  • The Garfield Show episode "Pampered Pussycat" sees Garfield meet Prince Orloff, the pet cat of a rich woman. While Garfield envies Orloff's pampered lifestyle, Orloff reveals to him that it's not as good as it sounds; he's not allowed to do anything by himself nor engage in typical fun activities, and he envies Garfield's freedom. Garfield's fantasies aren't deterred by this, but at the end of the episode, seeing her cat smiling and having fun convinces Orloff's owner to ease up on her pampering.
  • In Hey Arnold! this is what drives the conflict between Helga Pataki and her older sister Olga over their parents' Parental Favoritism. Helga sees all of the extra attention that Olga gets while Helga herself suffers from severe Parental Neglect and resents Olga as a result, while Olga sees Helga being free to do what she wishes without their parents' interference instead of being constantly expected to perform perfectly "like a wind-up doll" and holds on to her idealized image of her "baby sister" to cope; the inability of both sisters to fully acknowledge the negatives that the other experiences because of their parents' behavior prevents them from fixing the rift between them.
  • Little Rural Riding Hood has the Country Wolf visit his cousin in the city, and proceeds to go gaga over City Red. Embarrassed by his cousin's lack of self-control, City Wolf drives him back home... and proceeds to go gaga over Country Red, prompting Country Wolf to chide him over his lack of self-control and drive him back home to the city.
  • The Simpsons: In "Pray Anything", Homer looks at Flanders' backyard and sees that the grass is literally greener on his side. Marge says it's because he keeps passing out on their lawn, and the camera zooms out to reveal several Homer-shaped patches of dirt.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants:
    • In the Season One episode "Nature Pants", SpongeBob idealizes living among the jellyfish as what his life is meant to be like, and does everything in his power to leave his current life behind, but after getting stung by an entire hive of jellyfish and a run-in with poison sea urchins, he finally realizes that his old life was preferable.
    SpongeBob: What have I done? I had a great life and friends, and I gave all of that up!
  • Steven Universe: Future: In "Mr. Universe", Steven learns more about Greg's upbringing after visiting the latter's childhood home. While Greg moans throughout the episode about how terribly strict his parents were, Steven is frustrated because he was denied any chance of normalcy due to Greg's parenting and the life he did lead as a result gave him PTSD. On the other hand, Steven himself is guilty of this as well, as even though Greg's childhood problems seem comparatively nothing, it was clear that he was still genuinely miserable growing up. As a result, Steven fails to pick up on the numerous implications that for all the 'normalcy' that Greg got to have, he didn't have the unconditional love and support from his parents that Steven received for all his life.
  • The Venture Bros.: When Rusty and Jonas Jr. reunite in the Season 6 premiere, Jonas privately reveals to him that he envies Rusty's friends and family while he got caught up in the rat race, and that his money and intelligence doesn't mean anything because he's been Secretly Dying of cancer. Keep in mind Rusty is an Inadequate Inheritor while Jonas Jr. is far more successful than his brother.

    Real Life 
  • An anglophone expression that reflects this mindset is "keeping up with the Joneses." The "Joneses" in this case are one's neighbors or peers. To "keep up" with them is to do things not because a person necessarily wants to do them, but because they want to improve their own life by emulating someone else's. In addition, the desire to not be seen as "inferior" to one's peers is also a part of it. Quite often, people who follow this mindset will find themselves buying things they don't need and doing things they don't want but feel obligated to do out of some vague promise of an improved life. However, it rarely pans out this way.
    • In the Internet age this is sometimes referred to as "comparing your life to someone else's highlight reel"; that is, looking at someone's carefully-curated account on Instagram or other social networking sites and imagining that their life is endlessly magical and wonderful. This naturally makes one's own life seem drab and boring, even though almost everyone has moments of joy and excitement and there's no reason to assume that some stranger online really has it that much better.
  • Truth in Television, the classic immigrant story, and not just immigrants from one country to another; it's a significant reason for people to move around within a country, too (having found work elsewhere or going off to school are probably the only more common reasons).
  • One particular example can be found in WWII, American forces were issued egg-shaped "Pineapple" grenades, while German troops had "Potato masher" grenades with throwing handles, and both forces were known to favor the other, Americans took a liking to the Potato Mashers they got their hands on because the handle let them throw the grenades further, while Germans hoarded any Pineapples they could get their hands on, as they could fit more of them into their kit than the bulkier grenades they were issued.
  • In a literal example, goats, sheep, and cattle can often be seen reaching through gaps in fences to reach grass growing on the other side even when they have plenty of grass on their side of the fence. Horse fencing has to be tall enough to prevent the horses from reaching the grass on the other side or they'll lean on the fence until they push it over.


Video Example(s):


My problem is I'm a Universe!

Steven does not take learning about Greg's past too well, and lashes out at him with years of repressed feelings from his adventures with the Gems.

How well does it match the trope?

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Example of:

Main / CallingTheOldManOut

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