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Finding My Happiness in New York City

I did something amazing today; I ventured into Chinatown and ate at an authentic dim sum restaurant, all by myself. To some, this may not seem like much, but it meant everything to me.

I have dreamt of living in New York City for years. When looking back on my elementary-aged dream journals, they all yearn for the lifestyle I am living right now – eighteen years old, living in the Big Apple, no parents, all the freedom in the world. And yeah, I love this city and I love this life, but, for some reason, something feels wrong.

Every night, I tuck myself into bed, shaming myself for not appreciating this life. I have this huge city at my fingertips, and yet all I want to do is hang out alone in my dorm.

“I’m not doing this right,” I keep telling myself. I so desperately want to be a New Yorker, but I’m not. I’m just a girl from Pennsylvania who’s trying to figure life out in a city that I might not love as much as I thought I would.

All of these emotions hit me hard the other night. I FaceTimed my older sister, crying for the first time since I moved to the city. She picked up the phone and drunkenly shouted, “Hey gurrrlllllll!”

After spilling my thoughts and emotions to her, she tried to give me good advice. Honestly, I don’t remember a word of it, as her intoxicated brain spewed gibberish in an attempt to cheer me up. I couldn’t help but dislike myself for not being a traditional college kid like my sister. I felt pressured to go to parties, to get drunk, to be reckless. But watching my sister stumble down the street surrounded by friends made me realize that those things aren’t my key to happiness. And then I spiraled. If those aren’t my key to happiness, then what is? What makes Lucie Flagg happy?

But as I hung up the call with my sister, I knew exactly what I needed to do to change. I needed to give up any preconceived notion I had about life in New York City and write my own story, apart from what I thought I knew.

  1. Forget the Sappy “Greatest City on Earth” Stories.

For years, I have consumed media that glamorizes life in this city. Like in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, when Lara Jean attends an NYU party that ends in a night of friendship, adventure, and discovery. Or how about in Dash and Lily, when the two prance around the greatest city on Earth, writing to and falling in love with each other. Yeah, that’s all total BS. Because the truth is, this city is just average. Don’t get me wrong, I like it – perhaps even love it –but believing in these sappy stories makes this city appear bland. So, I erased everything I believed about New York City. You can’t be let down when there’s nothing to expect.

  1. Explore.

When you give up believing in the stereotypes about this city, you’re suddenly faced with a new question; where do I even live?

After ending the call with my sister, I fixed up my eye makeup, strapped on my shoes, and headed outside. I realized; this was the first time I had ever stood outside in New York City without a set plan of directions. So, I walked. And I gave myself only one rule; if you see something interesting, stop to explore.

I found a small dog park, perched between the base of the Brooklyn Bridge and a tiny brick house. Excited, I walked through, hoping to spot some dogs, but there weren’t any. I was disappointed, so I moved on.

I walked into the Seaport District and found Van Leeuwen, an ice cream shop I had been eager to try. I asked the employee if they had any of their infamous Kraft Mac & Cheese ice cream (why not try to be adventurous, too?), and they said they only sold it by the pint. As a college student with a tiny mini-fridge, I knew this wouldn’t work. I was disappointed, so I moved on.

I came across a cute bakery and wandered in. I asked if anything they sold was gluten-free, as I have celiac disease, but the employee said “no.” I was disappointed, so I moved on.

When I opened the door to leave the bakery, I was met with a gust of wind and a downpour of rain. I ran to the bookstore next door and sat down, frustrated. I’m going out of my way, trying so hard to love this city, and all I get in return is disappointment, I thought to myself. All I wanted to do was go back to my dorm, hop in bed, and settle into a pit of despair until the sunrise the following morning.

But then I had an epiphany; I was blaming the innocent city for my own neglect. How can I expect myself to appreciate New York City when I’m just hiding in a bookstore? Am I a hypocrite for loving the city in the sun but hating it in the rain? Maybe all of the disappointment I had endured on my walk was just New York City dishing it back.

So, I left the bookstore and trekked through the rain with no umbrella or coat. I found a small boutique and curiously entered. Immediately, I knew I couldn’t afford much, so I just browsed. I picked up a reusable to-go coffee mug that said “I fu*king love New York.” As I held it in my hands, the employee walked up to me and said, “That’s 70% off today! It’s only $5 now.”

I’m not sure if I’d consider myself a destiny-believing kind of person, but the words on the cup and the timing of the sale seemed a little like, dare I say, fate. So, I bought it. And when I left the boutique, the rain had ended and the sun began to peek through the clouds.

That day, I walked all the way down from the Brooklyn Bridge to the Seaport District to the Whitehall Terminal, back up to the World Trade Center, and into City Hall Park. As my long walk was almost complete, I came across a novel on a park bench with a note reading “Take me!”

This novel was called The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. Ironic, right? I had spent hours walking around lower Manhattan, trying to explore and seek what makes me happy, all to end with the literal book on the subject in my hands. So, I took the book and went back to my dorm.

  1. Rebuild Your Opinion of New York City.

I don’t think New York City is the greatest city on Earth, but I also don’t think there is one true best city. Every city has good and bad parts. It’s not about the location or the amenities – it’s about the mindset.

Last night, I sat in bed and told myself “I’m going to try something out of my comfort zone tomorrow.” A month ago, this would have resulted in me attempting to go to a college party or getting drunk, but I now know that everyone has a different comfort zone. For me, it was taking my new book to a restaurant in Chinatown and trying dim sum for the first time.

Part of me felt lonely and embarrassed to be the only single table in the whole restaurant, but a larger part of me felt pure bliss. I don’t have to be a character in a movie to enjoy life in New York City. I just have to be me and explore the places that reassure that. This is my happiness project. It might not be a novel and it certainly isn’t complete, but it’s making life in this totally average city just a little bit better. 

Lucie is currently a freshman majoring in Film & Screen Studies at Pace University in New York City. She was formerly Editor-in-Chief of The Uproar (2020-21), an award-winning online publication based in Pittsburgh, PA.
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