In the past few months I've had some opportunities to travel and visit other universities. In a lot of cases these places have been the type that, by reputation, would be viewed as an upgrade from my current institution. In a couple of instances it wouldn't be close.
When I visit another department I always like to get a feel for how they do business. How are faculty treated? How are the grad students and postdocs treated and supported? What does the lab space look like and how tight is it? How colleagial does the department seem? How much teaching do the PIs do? Etc., etc.
This mix of variables is always different and often in surprising ways. Much of the tolerance for some features is in the eye of the beholder, in that we all make sacrifices in areas that hold less priority in our lives. How much weight do you place on institutional support of grad students? More than lab space? More than having an office and lab in the same building? What about teaching load?
In the non-biomed sciences there is perhaps a surprising amount of variability in the conditions and demands associated with PIhood at institutions across the country. Additional variability can come from the relative funding rates of PIs, but the NSFers can't haul in the type of funding that frees you up in the way that NIH peeps are accustom to, leaving only so far one can deviate from the base. In that way, institutional variation may be more critical to those of us in the "basic" sciences.
All of this is perhaps a round about way to say that I my travels have unexpectedly given me more appreciation for my own job and institution. I think we tend to fixate on the issues we know well from our own places of employment and believe that nowhere else could possibly be as backassward and maybe that is true on certain topics. At the same time, most of us chose our institutions in comparison to others where we might have had an offer. We did so based on the value we place on some of the many variables associated with this job. Perhaps some things were unanticipated from the vantage point of being on the job market, but on the whole it is probably a good idea to identify some of things about your job and institution that you appreciate once in a while.
Then you can go back to complaining to colleagues about how horrible your institution is.