New York State of Mind

While in Aruba, we had some nice dinners at restaurants like Pago Pago and Ruinas Del Mar. By Aruban standards, the meals were quite good and a tad on the pricey side (over $100 a meal for the two of us). But coming from NYC, we didn’t view these prices to be bad at all. Then we realized the effect living in NYC is having on us! It’s skewing our perspective on the cost of things, the quality of things, etc.

We realized what an aberration life in New York is from most people’s living situations. Where else do people pay over $2,000 a month for tiny apartments (and by the way, that only gets you a studio in Manhattan – hence, part of the reason we are living in Brooklyn – we need livable space!). At the same time, we are used to paying ridiculous amounts for cocktails and dinners here too so $100 dinners aren’t terribly expensive to us. As cliched as it sounds, there is nothing like living in New York….and with that comes both the good and the bad.

This revelation reminded me of a recent New York Magazine article I read about happiness written by Jennifer Senior. There were some interesting points made, such as the following excerpts from the piece:

Like most New Yorkers I know, I can’t imagine living in most other places in the world. My troubles would surely be aggravated, rather than solved, by relocating to Branson. But reading the literature of happiness studies, I can’t help but wonder whether we aren’t all in the grip of some strange false consciousness. From the point of view of the happiness literature, New Yorkers seem to have been mysteriously seduced into a way of life that conspires, in almost every way, against the most basic level of contentment.

And this:

Which is where the subtle thesis of Barry Schwartz’s The Paradox of Choice comes in. He argues, with terrible persuasiveness, that a superabundance of options is not a blessing but a certain recipe for madness. Nowhere do people have more choices than in New York. “New Yorkers should probably be the most unhappy people on the planet,” says Schwartz, a psychology professor at Swarthmore. “On every block, there’s a lifetime’s worth of opportunities. And if I’m right, either they won’t be able to choose or they will choose, and they’ll be convinced they chose badly.”

Economists have a term for those who seek out the best options in life. They call them maximizers. And maximizers, in practically every study one can find, are far more miserable than people who are willing to make do (economists call these people satisficers). “My suspicion,” says Schwartz, “is that all this choice creates maximizers.” If that’s the case, New York doesn’t just attract ambitious neurotics; it creates them. It also creates desires for things we don’t need—which, not coincidentally, is the business of Madison Avenue—and, as a corollary, pointless regrets, turning us all into a city of counterfactual historians, men and women who obsessively imagine different and better outcomes for ourselves.

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