Why are people in New York City so unhappy (according to a reputable study)?

This isn’t a thread for me or others to bash the Big Apple. I hardly know the place and have only passed through there briefly. I know I wouldn’t like to live there because I am not a big city person but plenty of people seem to be willing to spend huge sums of money for the privilege and many even have it as a bucket list item or a lifelong dream. Where is the disconnect coming from?

The study I am referring to was done by Harvard and the Vancouver School of Economics if you haven’t heard of it before so it isn’t some random internet survey. Lots of so-called desirable places got bad life satisfaction ratings but NYC came in dead last in the U.S. OTOH, so of the highest ranking ones were from places that you wouldn’t immediately expect. All of the top 5 were in my home state of Louisiana and it was ranked as the happiest state.

Why is there such an (almost) negative correlation between objective measures like wealth, infrastructure and education and overall life happiness? I don’t have a good answer for that but I can attest that people in Louisiana tend to be fat, dumb and really happy because they party a whole lot and it is warm most of the year. Combine that with low expectations and a very low cost of living and you tend to make a really happy population regardless of any other problems. That is the best hypothesis that I can come up with.

I welcome your thoughts.

I was actually pretty happy most of my time there. If we had tried to stick it out very long after our first son was born it would have gotten less happy; we were stuffed into a tiny apartment and couldn’t afford anything bigger. It was tough for many of us in lower paid professions in the late nineties, and I’m sure it’s harder now.

Everything in NYC is a hassle.

I grew up mostly in Lexington, MA and rural northern Quebec. There were short-term international stints because my father worked for an MNC, so they dragged us through Japan, England and Brazil for shits and giggles. I’ve lived all over the US and Canada since high school ended, but I raised vc for my startup in NYC, then I met and got married to a settled New Yorker and finally sealed my fate by purchasing property here so I’m stuck for the near future.

The first year was really the worst. The WORST. I hated it. And I say that as someone that went to undergrad in downtown Montreal and started my law career in freaking Los Angeles, so I’m not like some random rube who moved to the big city for the first time, in spite of my definite bumpkin/suburban roots. I’ve never, to date, lived in dumps the way I did in New York. I’ve never, in my life, seen people exclaim over those dumps like they were amazing apartments the way my friends here did with my LES and my husband’s Astoria apartments. When we bought our house it took us, quite literally, 2 hours to sublet our Astoria apartment. People were begging us to give them that tiled covered monstrosity. The city always felt like 1 big concrete fugmuppet assault on my senses and at one point my dog choked on a bunch of chicken bones he tried to inhale off the street. I lived in CA for 5 years and the taxes here (city tax???) felt like the worst. And also a LOT of people here are so damn smugly about being New Yorkers-and even worse, now they’re smugly about being from Brooklyn! Yeah, whatever, Gowanus.

That said, things started looking up after we moved and bought our own house. I have a lot more space, a really short commute, no more city tax while having the city as my front yard, and even though I’d like MORE trees, I do live in front of a very beautiful park. It turned out that the most smugly New Yorkers are transplants rather than natives (though there is a very vocal contingent who need to let you know they are Native New Yorkers ALL CAPS) Also, I now rely on the convenience of living in a major metropolitan area, the same way I used to when I was in Montreal and L.A. I feel sort of professionally and personally settled here and it’s now just become a sort of background to my life so I’m not that unhappy, other than when I look at my property tax bill. So it turned out okay. But all things being equal, I’ll probably try to convince my husband to move to Carlisle at some point.

It’s cold in the winter, and you have to walk everywhere. It stinks in the summer, because the trash piles up before the garbagemen can take it away. It’s crowded; walking through Times Square can be a nightmare. Getting past the tourists is impossible, and all you want to do is get to work on time. Beggars constantly ask you for money. The subway just made you 45 minutes late to your meeting, and you couldn’t even call or text anyone to let them know because there’s no wifi underground. You pay $2,000 for a 500-square-foot apartment on the fourth floor of a walk-up building, and your neighbor plays the trumpet. You have to carry your groceries home because you don’t have a car, so once you buy that gallon of milk you’re pretty much done.

But God it’s beautiful, and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

Why are fish wet?

People in NYC are so unhappy because they are in NYC.

Well if you read the story it says happiness scores were adjusted for family income and housing costs. So it’s not “NYC people are not happy” but “NYC people have less happiness per income level than other areas”. What is the point of this study I haven’t a clue.

I wonder if it might be something like ‘People who are restless and discontented by nature are more likely to move to a big city looking for something that will make them happy.’

You didn’t read the study. What you say is true but NYC still comes out really badly in happiness scores even when you look at unadjusted data. It is the 4th least happy out of over 300 U.S. cities by that measure as well even when you take out all other factors. The cities that scored more badly with the uncorrected data are Scranton, PA, Erie, PA, and South Bend, IN. The correction was done for very good academic reasons but it hardly seems to matter in this case.

Somehow, I don’t think this is the best type of rebuttal as cited below.

I am honestly not trying to criticize Big Apple in some overall way. It is the biggest city in the country and many people obviously want to live there. I just want to know why their choice or circumstances makes them so unhappy?


This was completely my reaction, too. I’ve lived here in NYC for a long time. Maybe other places are happier because they are exporting their unhappy people to New York.

Two other thoughts:

First, I feel like many people who are here are living here for what will be a relatively short time in their lives, although it might be a few years, enough that they are really residents. So some of the reasons they are here, for business, to earn money in order to eventually live somewhere “better,” can be stressful in and of themselves. Even if they eventually like it, the transition can be long, and tough. And if they are on their way out (I’m talking in terms of years, like they figure they have two more years before moving elsewhere) it can seem like counting time.

Second, for those people who like New York and thrive here, I think many have an attitude that looks at “satisfaction” in a very aggressive way. Let’s say you start a business, and you’re about 20% of the way to your goal – a person with this New York attitude is going to say no, of course they’re not satisfied, they haven’t reached the goal yet. Even if 20% is a really great place to be, about on track, you’re making progress – these things don’t translate as “satisfaction” in this mentality. You could even be enjoying it, but the satisfaction doesn’t happen until you’re at the goal … and for a New Yorker, that goal keeps moving because once you get there, you set another goal. That’s why the city attracts ambitious people. If you’re gleefully satisfied with 20%, are you really motivated enough to make it in NYC? In this mindset, being satisfied doesn’t really correlate with being being happy.

My WAG is that part of it is that there’s always so many interesting things going on in NYC every day and night – thousands of cultural events of all types – that no matter how many of then you participate in, you’re always missing out on 99 percent of them. That alone would make me feel rather anxious and sad, were I living there.

If you overcrowd animals into a cage, the stress caused by the crowding makes them all less happy, even if the cage is a comfortable temperature and there’s plenty of food and mates.

Same for humans. Humans are descended from territorial animals that don’t like being crammed together because their instincts tell them this is bad for survival.

That’s what the study is saying. If you made the same income level out in the country, you’d be happier due to less crowding.

Well, that, and the actual relative value of each dollar is much less in NYC.

New Yorkers, like many Americans, can be spiteful. I think the “traditional,” arrogant New Yorker stereotype has a deeply ambivalent attitude toward contentment: s/he considers it the mark of an undeveloped intellect, a stifled psyche, and a complacent soul.

The New Yorker stereotype values stress, conflict, and tension as badges of honor and evidence of engagement and maturity. Avoidance of these things, even when they are unnecessary or destructive, is a sucker’s game.

I’ve read several complaints from NYCers about the shallowness of “friends.” When you have so many options about how your time is spent, people are more easily taken for granted. I can see how it would be harder to form real relationships with people. Contrast this with people who live in a more spread-out, rural environment. They *have *to rely on those human connections because there isn’t as much “stuff” to do for fun.

I lived in or around NYC for 25 years. I think the study failed to differentiate between native New Yorkers (those born and brought up there) and people who were transplanted from elsewhere. The native New Yorker feels trapped. He knows little about what it’s like to live elsewhere, and his income level is substandard, and he doesn’t know how to drive. He’s stuck there for the rest of his life. Contrast that with a transplant, like I was. I knew, as a child, that I wanted to live there, and I took advantage of all that NYC has to offer, which is unequaled elsewhere. My last apartment rent was $2500, and I had money to spare, from a decent job. I found the tall buildings and bridges inspiring, and the constant hustle and bustle invigorating. The only thing that actually bothered me was the noise, which I’m glad to have escaped from.

All in all, if I could live in an apartment that was big enough for my current needs, I’d move back in a heartbeat. But New York is a great place to live if you’re young or rich. I’m neither.

You have to admit alot of great art and popular icons come out of New York. Songs about New York, all of Broadway, movies, tv shows based there, The Yankees, etc… Just listening to “The 59th Street Bridge Song” makes me want to visit. Additionally the museums, the statue of liberty, the sights like Times Square.

But as they say “great place to visit, not where I’d want to live”.

Study conducted by bridge-and-tunnel people.

[sub]I’m just kidding. But only just. :smiley: [/sub]

You must have a lot of patience and possess a certain energy level to really do well in NYC. A lot of the decisions you make on a daily basis kinda suck. Are you gonna wait on the freezing cold or swampy hot subway platform, along with all the scary crazy people, only to board a crowded smelly train? Or are you gonna hustle your ass a mile down the crowded sidewalk in the pouring rain/burning heat/snow blizzard? Or are you gonna spend money you don’t have on another cab? You go through this multiple times a day, maybe with babies or kids in tow, and you’d start to feel bad too.

There’s also a huge income inequality problem that’s much more apparent than perhaps in other places. Poor people hate seeing all that wealth flashed before their eyes all the time, and rich people hate feeling guilty and inconvenienced by all the poor people.

Well, there you go, a bunch of jealous Bostonians and Canadians teamed up to do a job on New York. :slight_smile:

I grew up there and didn’t mind it. But I wouldn’t go back there to live (or even visit), even if I won a $1 million dollar apartment for life.*

*these days a million bucks might buy you a three-room apartment in a building with an elevator, and a partially obstructed view of Bayonne.

Well, I assume 50% of the people there are women, and the one thing no one said about that catcalling video was that it was completely off base.