*Edit 2/21/2017- I am pretty embarrassed by this post. I was very naive and close-minded when I wrote it. I’m so tempted to edit it, but will preserve it as a reminder of how I’ve grown in the past four years. Please read it with a grain of salt and dash of humor!*
I have lived in New York City for three and a half years. Fordham’s campus in the Bronx is a nice, quiet bubble. I have found that the more I have to interact with Manhattan due to classes or internships, the less happy I become. I lived and interned in Manhattan from June to August and I think it was the least happy I have been in my entire life. I could give you a litany of things I hate about the city, but instead I have an argument for why NYC breeds stress and unhappiness.
I am going to structure my argument around something I heard while watching a documentary called Happy. Please stick with me, as this will be my longest post to date. I’ll sprinkle in some fun music to distract you and lighten your spirits. I promise this won’t be too depressing (unless you live in New York City…then I’m sorry).
In a small segment of the film, Dr. Tim Kaser of Knox College spoke about his studies of extrinsic and intrinsic goals. According to him, examples of extrinsic goals are money, status, and image. Intrinsic goals are personal growth, close personal relationships, and community feeling or desire to help the world become a better place. He explained how value systems that support extrinsic desires are at the opposite end of, and in opposition to, value systems that support intrinsic desires. In his studies he found that people who are intrinsically oriented are happier. His theory made me realize that I do not like New York City because it is an extrinsically orienented place.
Money: Everything from food, housing, transportation, and recreation in New York is expensive. Most people I have met are out to make as much money as possible. Since moving to the city, I have learned to avoid human contact on the subways or in the streets because if some one approaches me it is because they want my money.
Community: The awareness that strangers are out to get me is extremely inhibiting when trying to foster a feeling a community. For example, one early evening over the summer I was standing on a street on the Upper West Side talking to some friends. A woman approached us and asked for money for food. I took my wallet out and offered her a dollar. She saw the corner of a five-dollar bill sticking out of my wallet and grabbed for it, knocking my wallet out of my hand. Fortunately, I was quick enough to scoop it up and run away without losing anything. Before this incident, I was aware of people on the street, but now I am afraid of them. It is hard to feel happy and at home in a place I am afraid of. In addition, I no longer give money to anyone begging on the street. Instead, I pretend not to see or hear them and it makes me feel awful.
Image: New York might evolve around people’s image more than money. Money is made in order to buy power symbols (like designer brand clothing) to convey to others that one has money and, more importantly, status. This desire for image and status also creates a hierarchy. It is hard to create meaningful relationships with people in a community when everyone is constantly trying to prove that they are better than everyone else. I worked between Madison and 5th Ave this summer and was always frustrated with the crowds of tourists window-shopping. It seems like even the tourism in the city relies on images of 5th Ave., Fashion Week, etc. that are conveyed in the popular media.
Status: Being a senior in college, I am flooded with advice from Career Services. Being a liberal arts major, and therefore unskilled, they always stress that I network. “Meet as many as people as possible and hope one of them knows somebody who knows somebody who can get you a job” they seem to say. This mentality almost comes at the sacrifice of personal relationships. I find myself only interested in people who might be helpful to me. It got so bad that in my internship over the summer I made no effort to befriend the other interns. There were about thirty other interns in the building and we met weekly for “Lunch and Learns” hosted by the company. These were people who were in the same position in life as myself, so I probably had a lot in common with. I had the opportunity to make some great friends. Instead, I thought, “I’m on my second internship and a New Yorker*. This is only the first internship for some of them. Most of them commute and some are from New Jersey. I am so much better than them. They have nothing to offer me.” Because I was looking for people with a high status in the publishing industry who could improve my own, I missed out on connections that might have made me a much happier person over the summer.
Personal Growth: In my experience in New York, earning money to improve my image and status came before personal growth. This seems contradictory, but the point of personal growth is doing something just for the pleasure of doing it. Since moving to NYC I’ve heard the expression, “Time is money” a lot. To me, this says everything anyone needs to know about NYC. It implies that one should only spend time doing things one is going to get something out of. Time wasted is money lost. This sentiment leaves no room for time for family, friends, or relaxation (i.e. the keys to happiness).
In summary: I don’t like New York City because people value status, money, and image over personal growth, relationships, and community. I mentioned in an earlier post that I am a country girl at heart. I just don’t have the right personality to thrive in a city. If you live in NYC and love it, I really hope I didn’t ruin it for you. If you are happy in the city please ignore everything I said. OR LEAVE A COMMENT BELOW I hope my lil’ post ignites some argument. Thanks for reading 🙂
*I don’t know what it means to be a New Yorker. I don’t think anyone does, really (except for people who hate New Yorkers).
I can’t pick which song from this band to leave you with. I like this one best:
But this one reminds me of Breaking Bad: