Positive Envy

Yunnan Red Soil Positive Envy-3

There is an old saying I think about every now and then: “the grass is always greener on the other side.”

Not so much for its meaning of someone desiring something they believe would improve his or her life, yet in reality would not.  Instead, it is because I think about where I am now, and the possibilities of what could be.

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To dream of being in a totally different situation, wondering how great life would be compared to the current situation is intriguing.  The mind is unrealistically focused on what could be gained, with little attention to what would be lost.

A poor example of this: my memory as a kid on a family vacation sitting at a restaurant for breakfast. I would always order the French toast and upon the arrival of the food, look on in envy as my twin sister’s stack of blueberry pancakes taunted me…those pancakes topped with whipped cream looked so much better than my wimpy French toast.

Nothing's Changed...

Nothing’s Changed…

Don't I have a GREAT Sister...

Don’t I have a GREAT Sister…

Didn’t matter that I loved French toast and it always tasted great, for I couldn’t think of anything else except my stomach growling with envy.

Fortunately, it never failed that my little sister would give me a small bite of her pancakes to make me happy (and also get a laugh at the whipped cream that would inevitably find its way to the tip of my nose), and life would be good again.

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Such a simple memory, but one of many that demonstrates to me the endless possibilities the mind creates. Hammering home the moral of being happy with what you have and how ridiculous it is to have petty envy.

When positive thinking fuels the mind, things tend to work themselves out.

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Over the years, I think most people come to understand it never pays to feel or act on petty-envy or the negatives that “the grass is always greener…” may inspire.  However, I think envy in itself is not bad, as there is still a piece of this feeling that is worth exploring further: “positive envy.”

Comparing a situation with one that is perceived to be better can create a sense of hope; triggering a new dream to inspire. I find inspiration in stories, movies and photographs from all over the world, where I have this feeling of “the grass is always greener…” but understand I can create something similar in my life.

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Positive Envy is the excitement at discovering something new from another source and creating a drive to move people up to a higher level (no matter how small).

My favorite definition of this feeling is this clip from the movie Vision Quest: seeing and experiencing something so spectacular, that it lifts the spirit to a higher level of existence. Once this emotion is felt, it is impossible not to develop a drive and try to achieve such a moment yourself.

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There are many such vision quests in life, and for me seeing places I may never visit ~ but through photographs, videos and stories, it becomes easy to imagine myself creating a life there. Positive envy of someone experiencing such a different way of life brings adventure into my day.

As mentioned in an earlier writing, Let The Show Begin…, photography, music and sports are just two examples where inspiration thrives.

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Recently, I traveled to Dongchuan, Yunnan in SW China and arranged a home stay; a perfect way to get a glimpse into the life of locals. There were a few older people I met who shared their stories, their struggles and mostly their simple brilliance of happiness that they had collected over their lifetime.

Sharing a part of their history, through their words I could imagine the very time/place/emotions to a point where it felt as if I had lived that life alongside them.

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A very powerful feeling, and while I imagined how great it would be to experience such a place in time; what I appreciated most was the glimpse at the scope of possibilities of people everywhere.

Positive Envy.

Humans have a pretty incredible stretch of capabilities, and while the ideal of accumulating great material wealth is an overriding dream for many…it is usually those who seek a simpler route that find a greater sense of happiness.

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A controlled environment tends to pull us all in one direction: “nose to the grindstone” seems to be its mantra, and it is usually led by a group of elitists restricting our freedoms.

To avoid this lunatic fringe that permeates politics and many parts of society, listen to the words of Joseph Campbell and enter the forest at the darkest point, where there is no path.  Avoid the well-worn path as the road often traveled tends to entice and then subdue the spirit.

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In all, I figure that while the “grass may seem greener elsewhere” we attach ourselves to where we are most comfortable.  It is good to explore, to get out and see what is out there…but in the end, it is tough to beat home.

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Even when things may look bleak, there is always a smile to brighten the day.  I sat one late afternoon watching the energy of this old man, amid a group of locals sharing his stories. “I can’t afford to be sad because right now is all I may have…and I’ve been saying this for more than 10 years!” and he laughed which made everyone laugh.

If the time ever comes when I am missing all my teeth, I’ll accept it…but until then I will make sure to enjoy the feel of biting into a crisp apple during a hot day.

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“The grass is always greener…” It is a difficult proverb to dissect, because there are so many ways to look at it. Here in Dongchuan, most of the people in this village dream of their children being able to live in Hong Kong (or any Chinese metropolis), as these cities have a higher standard of living.

I can understand this. These are significant dreams to have, and it can fuel positive envy: a flow of ideas that lead to a realm of unimaginable successes.  Wherever the dream flows, a happy child is the real goal.

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I suppose that is the magic of life. At some point in time, it is necessary for the soul to search and begin its own Vision Quest.  To lift those around you to a higher level of happiness.  What that quest is and where it flows varies greatly among us all.

With that said, sometimes the grass is actually greener, and if possible, worth checking out for yourself.

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196 Comments on “Positive Envy

    • Thanks Joshi, interestingly how photography has made me enjoy see the rays of the sun differently. Cheers.

  1. I cannot decide if I like the essay more than the photographs or vice versa!
    Randall, you keep on the raising the bar higher with every new post. You write in a concise manner, which I greatly admire, for it enables you to say so much and yet so little. Just how do you do it? 🙂
    As for “positive envy”, it is definitely a driving force, but one needs to be the kind of person who likes to work in order to move forward. If the person doesn’t belong to that section, then there will be no end to his reverie. He’ll keep on dreaming of what all he could (or would) do but never actually do it.
    While someone who will dream AND do would, I think, channelize his envy (positive or negative) into working to get what he envies, because he belongs to the section of people of believe in ‘hard-work is the key to success’ and so will find any excuse to get to work. And so I agree with you when you say, “When positive thinking fuels the mind, things tend to work themselves out.” – when a goal is set and the frame of mind, positive, almost everything is within reach.

    I marvel at every word you’ve said. And believe me when I say that I cherish and I learn from your thoughts. From what I know, it requires a deep outlook, and amazing observation and contemplation skills to present what you’ve presented us with.

    Please never stop writing. And of course, clicking. Because you’re really good at them both. 🙂

    • Thank you Meghna, such a great compliment ~ every now and then it feels good to stretch the mind either with writing or photography 🙂 I guess doing this is my way of reminding myself to keep on dreaming and pursuing things, even when I am not quite sure where the road goes. Wish you the best ~ enjoy the rest of summer. Cheers!

    • Thanks Dedy, while I always like looking at grasses elsewhere, you are right what we have now is where to find real happiness.

      • in a real life, i was once entering mining and energy major for one year before i enter dentistry, the time goes on an he became a good miner and i’m becoming dentist. He driving a really nice hummer from his salary and it’s pretty much made me a lil bit regret left the major, but the regret all the sudden stops eversince two of my close friend died in a helicopter accident in their mining area

  2. Randall, through your words and magical images, you inspire ‘positive envy.’ Put more more simply, your work inspires. 🙂

    Love how this one continues to make me think – certainly a topic that Shawn and I will discuss. And your magical photos – definite inspiration to get practicing with my camera. Thank you.

    • Ha, ha…thank you Tricia, the positive envy I feel with your travel photos, stories and videos is perfect ~ such a part of the inspiration I have to travel to Croatia and through Europe. Cheers!

      • It is really one of the best photo essays I’ve ever seen. I’ve shared it on Twitter and the response was phenomenal.

      • Ha, ha…I was stunned by the retweets & interest that you triggered, thank you! You have an impressive blog & following, very inspirational photos/stories. The Sea Gypsies I really want to see & experience. Cheers!

  3. Beautiful, beautiful words and photographs, I love the old lady and young boy photograph best, it really stands out to me, the colours of their outfits and her expression is just perfect. The old man and his pipe, I just love that he has held on to one tooth just stunning to see this world through your eyes.

    • Thank you Charlotte, it too like the photo of the old lady & boy, it captures a sense of community and care of countryside life ~ wish you a great week.

  4. Beautiful beautiful and witty as always! Hard not to feel positive envy when reading about your adventures, your ability to connect with people in far and different lands and landscapes, and bring that magic back for us through the photographs full of life and color. You are a true inspiration (like the one you say you find in stories, movies and photographs from all over the world). Thanks for sharing that so very cute of your little self 🙂 xox
    p.s. the old man’s smile pic is my favorite, so genuine and lovely and makes me smile in return

    • Thank you for your words. There is nothing quite like travel and meeting other people to open eyes and stretch the imagination…inspirational and fun 🙂 It is nice to see & meet so many great people out there ~ wish you well.

  5. Really enjoyed the reading. Thank you so much for sharing your insights of of “the grass is always greener…”. These beautiful photos convey your thoughts perfectly.

  6. this is brilliant, Randall… positive envy, hmm… there is so much positive energy in both your writing and your photos…and I can feel you are feeling free and wish to feel free to explore horizons and taste a fresh apple every day…
    this post is so emotive for me for so many reasons… thank you for the wonderful start of my week 🙂
    your portrait shots are stunning, each telling its own visual story… how long have you spent with these people before you have photographed them?

    • That is a great thought, “feeling free to explore horizons” a pretty good way to live life ~ I will have to borrow your thought here 🙂 Thank you Alexandra, I shot landscapes here for a few days, and then turned the camera on the locals. Wish you a great week!

  7. Beautiful! I particularly loved the shots of the cultivated hills, they remind me of patchwork quilts. Lovely post!

  8. It is amazing how even just an idea can be so injected to us. We think of things, we dream of something bigger and better. Such fascinating that an idea can overrule facts and rationale, or how powerful our subconcious can be. People just need to learn adaptability and acceptance. The society can dictate what is grand and beautiful is, but ought to just find it in our hearts and minds our place in life, be happy, and not buy into the designs for life. Reflection is good with the right balance. Seize the day some times, and not overthink. An idea can easily turn into a wild fire growing bigger and spreading fast, overpowering your judgment.

    • Great words Rommel, there is a post right there 🙂 A friend once told me ‘keep it simple, take it slow’ and I think the times I follow that advice are when I am happiest. Cheers!

  9. The beauty of the photographs gives a person time to reflect on their life to look within and realize and appreciate their position in life and hopefully understand that being envious of anything takes away from ones happiness. This is a great posting.

    • Thank you very much, you are so correct in that wishing for something in envy takes away from happiness ~ you say it perfectly.

  10. A fantastic post! It makes me feel “positive envy” already 🙂 The man laughing picture captures the joy and indeed shows that he can’t afford to be sad… I love it!

    • Thank you! Isn’t it a great and uplifting feeling when the only option is being happy 🙂 Cheers, and wish you a good week!

  11. Awe inspiring photos and words, Randall. I so enjoyed your thought progression, and from experience, I do agree with you that “sometimes the grass is actually greener, and if possible, worth checking out for yourself.”

  12. Gosh….you have captured amazing shots!! And I love your thoughts echoing within…:)

  13. It is human nature to want more. This can be positive or negative. I guess it depends on your philosophies. Great photos.

    • I do agree, always wanting just a bit more…yet at times its best just to enjoy what we have. Happiness comes from simplicity much of the time. Thanks!

  14. Love your images and thoughts and words. As one who has struggled with this thought too, I once heard a twist on this that changed the way I think: The grass is greener where you water it. Where we put our positive intentions and do the work to create our happiness, there we will find it.


    • Thank you Adriana, I love your thought of “the grass is greener where you water it…” that is perfect! Cheers!

  15. These images are breathtaking! I love how you have captured the beauty in the people and the nature! Each pictures describe so much!
    Look forward to follow and see much more of your wonderful work!

    • Thank you very much, this was such an interesting area ~ both the landscape and the people.

  16. It’s curious how many patterns there are in nature and the world around us. Your cultural photographs are gorgeous times ten.

    I smiled at you as a kid on vacation… My daughters, when they were younger, whatever I ordered, the kids wanted over their own choices. I think this happens with every family. 🙂

    • Thank you. Agree, pattern are everywhere, and especially with good kids in good families 🙂

  17. Your writing and your photos are both beautiful. I find the way you write to be completely captivating, and i suppose it has given me some of that positive envy you were talking about! Makes me want to strive to improve my own writing style! Like your writing, your photos are just brilliant! Epic, with perfect lighting and good composition. It has been thoroughly enjoyable to read your blog and I will continue to do so. I am now looking forward to future posts!



    • Thanks James, getting out with camera in-hand makes for some experiences that are fun to write about. Cheers!

  18. Such a magical post in every way Randall! Adding my positive envy to that of all your fans 🙂

  19. And the 1st pic nailed it. Now to read the Post. hahaha
    Resume of everything i saw and read: i am absolute positive envious at the moment.
    Its amazing how a picture can inspire us to do so many things, even to stay in complete mindfulness.

    • 🙂 there is nothing quite as nice to have a feeling of envy that brings inspiration and happiness, thank you Anja!

  20. You were fortunate to live with locals. I have always wanted to do that so that I see the real heart of the place I am visiting. I was in Riga, Latvia last week and asked to be taken to the locals’ residential areas. The response was that “you will see nothing but 12 storey buildings. You don’t want to go there”, but I did want to go there. It was frustrating to be in Riga for a whole day and do nothing but just walk around in the city – something I have done before.

    • This is the same way I feel ~ to get to see/be involved in the everyday life is special in that it is easier to see/understand the culture and the people… Agree with you 100%!

  21. So so in love with what you have here. Thank you for sharing.

  22. I agree with your sentiments. I feel that ‘positive envy’ can be acquired when we regress back to childhood; where life was foreign and new to us and we had an unbridled sense of wide-eyed appreciation. The unnecessary social constructs of this world tend to act as burdens which drag us down, and limit our appreciation of the greater, intangible things in life.
    For now I shall live vicariously through your beautiful photos.

    • I am a huge fan of Daoist philosophy, and the common goal is simply to reacquire the mind of a child ~ an unbiased, curious mind that as you say, has this “unbridled sense of wide-eyed appreciation.” Can you imagine how great it would be to fall back in that state every day 🙂 Wish you a great day!

  23. It is interesting how many people feel that a better future for themselves or their children lies in the bustling life of a modern city. Loving your golden toned perspective of those green rice terraces.

    • Thank you – here in Hong Kong I have friends dreaming of getting a place in small-town-USA, for a better life for their kids…always a bit of “the grass is always greener” Cheers!

  24. Your photos are truly beautiful. I travelled to Yunnan a couple of times whilst living in China and loved it. Love your blog – its great!!!

    • Thank you Sue, Yunnan is special to me because of the great diversity throughout the province…and the climate and beauty of its countryside made travel comfortable, and then of course the people were incredible. Cheers to the New Year…

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