Are You Happy Or Are You Content?

Last week my friend and I went to a spontaneous happy hour in Greenwich Village. While sipping on Jake’n’Ginger and Vodka Sodas, we started philosophing about life in New York and life in general. It appears that there is always a certain type of people that is attracted to this city. I am not talking about the locals – the citizens that have been here since the day they were born or the day their families moved here. I am also not talking about the temporaries – the tourists that come here and stay for two weeks or the interns that leave after 3 months at the UN. I am moreover talking about me and her – the people who have come here to start a new life or begin a changed life.

So while frustration poured over and gave room to contemplation, my meanwhile tipsy friend exclaimed that the only two kinds of people who matter are the following: the happy people and the content people. At first I didn’t know what to make of this. “I used to know this woman in her thirties. She didn’t have a high income but got up each day with her partner to work a minimum wage job and then buy herself some pot. They lived a happy life, the two of them. They were truly content.” I raised an eye brow and wondered if I had failed to miss out on the true purpose of life by rolling my own joint and working a meager-paying job. “I myself have never felt this sense of contentness,” she went on. “I have never been satisfied with what I do and have always strived for more. From an early age on. I know what it feels like to be happy. But being content? I have no idea,“ she contemplated while taking a sip of her vodka soda mix.
“So what is better, being content or being happy?” I stupidly asked, feeling all of a sudden awkward by the fact that I had not felt both in my life time. “Nothing is better. It’s just different,” she responded. “I think I am more of a happy person then,” I spoke my thoughts out loud. “If I had been content, I wouldn’t have come here to start a new life and begin adventures unheard of.” She smiled knowingly and said she thought the same. But the fact that one can never be content and happy at the same time still makes me feel at unease. Who is to say never, especially in a life time defined by so many different factors we cannot control?

So I like to revise the kinds of people from above. She calls them content and happy. I call them the people who strive and the people who do not. The people who strive are seeking a wider purpose in life. They know that the earth is not refined to a small village in Germany, a mediocre town in the States or field work in China. They know that only when they travel and experience life elsewhere, they will be able to still the innate fear of being left out on life and the beauty this world offers. The people who do not strive do not know what to do with the riches the world bears. They live their lives from day to day and are satisfied to have married a good man or woman, to have nursed a child or two, and to call a job their purpose. They might have a passion or a hobby, but they would not give up their comfortable life style in order to pursue it or to make their dream come true. They have a great life to offer from the outside, it might have everything the strivers were raised to believe in. But essentially how they make sense of the world and their life in general is hidden to someone like me and most likely will always remain a distanced truth of make-believe.

To me, it is a mystery of how you can be happy without having ventured out and had your entire life turned upside down. How you can appreciate what you have every day without having lost it for an extended period of time. It makes no sense to me to be on the steady path of studying, career, or marriage if you have not seen what else is out there. I guess I have always had this innate fear of missing out on too much had I stayed in the spot I was ten years ago. Or five years ago. I never pictured myself in a traditional job, such as a veterinary, a nurse, or a teacher, unlike many of my hometown friends.

Being raised bilingual and bicultural has opened up an entirely new universe to me in the sense of citizenship and traveling without the barrier of language so many other Germans and Americans have rubbed upon. It is impossible to redefine the mind to something smaller than it started out with, and that is very true when it comes to how my life has revolved. I sometimes really wonder if the people who have stayed in the same profession, the same town, or the same mindset for way too long do not feel that they are missing out on anything? And if yes, why are they not breaking out? Because ever since I set foot in this world by myself, ever since I boarded a plane on my own, I have had no desire to return to what I have called a safe haven. A shelter from the real life. And definitely a lot less enriching than my world has now turned out to be.

Back to the happy and content people: I believe my friend has it slightly wrong. The content people can be happy in the moment and the happy people can feel satisfied with their achievements once in a while. I guess her overall thought was that over the long run you cannot have both. Maybe a truly wise man or woman can have it both. But for now I am content with not being content. I am happy being a striver and striving for new goals to achieve every single day. Or week. Or month. Sometimes even years. However, I know that life is precious. And that it can become a burden if your freedom is restricted by what others want you to make out of it. So make sure that everything you do, you truly do for you.

Living My Life: Two Years in New York!

Today is the day! The Big Anniversary!

On March 15, 2010 I became what I had hardly dreamt of: A German moving to New York. The City of 8 million. The Big Apple. The town that offers hundreds of possibilities, there to pursue. My student life had changed 180 degrees as I stepped out of my first cab right in downtown Manhattan. I remember the first street I stood at. Columbia Street. I remember my first (foreing) cab driver, who took it from there and delivered me to the Best Western Hotel in Queens. He was Indian, a professor, and only he knows why he had given up his higher education benefits in his home country to pursue life in the City. However, he gave me the most valuable of advice. Said: “New York has the best of people and New York has the worst of people.” To date, this little wisdom I share with you has proven to be very true. So true, that indeed every time I remember this day and his words, I shake my head in astonishment at how they cannot be twisted and turned but simply apply to life in New York.

Two years in the City. Three different jobs, but none of which are career-worthy. Three different apartments, some of which have proven to catapult me to something I can call home. My discovery of the Flatbush ghetto and then the nice side of Brooklyn called Park Slope. A few interesting roommates later. A few boring roommates later. None of them which I had wanted to miss out on. Friends, heart breaks, coworkers, relationships – they have all guided me through the past 24 months and have formed my time here; created my memories in their own unique ways. Two years later, and I am reflecting.

Have I have become a different person? I have turned into someone else. Unsure yet if if I like the person I’ve become or if I hate what New York has made of me. The safest way is to go with a mix. Some traits have made me survive in all of these extreme circumstances I am walking through day by day, living every moment as if it could be my last. Others I wish I could deal with better. The coldness that comes with you when you have to choose between politeness or rudeness when brushing off the overflow of advertisement, vendors, promoters. I know some New Yorkers can justify being impolite towards strangers. I am still having a hard time with it. At least I don’t care anymore when someone pushes me out of their way on my way to work. Is this a sign that I have truly adapted, though? Or that I have forgotten what manners are for?

Every year has changed me to a degree I would have not foreseen. Only one thing seems granted in this city: Happiness does not come easy. And it most certainly does not come when you expect it to. I’ve found myself torn down after earning more money or going to a show I thought would be amazing – my expectations being too high on this one little thing, underestimating the true factors of life. And then I found this warm, joyful feeling when walking beneath skyscrapers in the Financial District of Manhattan or discovering the West Village on a sunny April afternoon. The feeling I had whenever I looked at the skyline from my second old apartment – indescribable. This City was right there, in its miniature form, and everything had seemed so clear to me. Now I work in the Empire State Building and the New York dream seems farther away than ever.

The one thing New York has truly given me: I have created my life new. I have created myself new. Every day, every hour, every moment spent in this precious city I have indulged in, I have caressed, I have made sure to become worthy to remember. Starting with discovering various neighborhoods: Harlem, Bedstuy, Bushwick – we were quite fearless in the beginning. Meeting random people at bars and on the streets, ending up being involved in night-long talks which came to a close on the red steps of Times Square. Working for three cheap Irish guys who did not even pay hourly wage for their bar employees. My first tears when erring around in a bad area, fearing Russian gangstas or other hoodies might pick me up and shred me to pieces.

Our unbelievable luck in this City. New York has this very specific way of applying Karma to everyone who enters and stays for longer than a few days. You laugh at a person on the streets? Be sure you will trip over the next misplaced stone within the next few seconds. It’s the small things that this city will gladly show you and those are the ones you have to appreciate. It is not about the beauty of this city, because this city is seldom beautiful in the traditional sense. It is about the quirks and downsides that make Nueva York a fascinating place to live in. The rainy mornings that turn into sunny afternoons and warm your heart. The rainbow colors in Central Park. A day at the beach, that is so trashed, you would have never stepped foot on it if you were on vacation in a different country. The annoying paper bags from Trader Joes which always seem to break at the wrong moment. And then of course the random people in the train station that come to your rescue and provide you with so many plastic bags, you don’t know how to thank them.

New York is a City of Extremes. And she has her very special way of showing you when it’s time to move on. Believe me, I have seen it in many people. Some of which have come here for a few months. Some of which have stayed for three years. It all ended in the same way: They got the insight that it is time to leave. To pursue something better. It is just too darn bad that every other city outside of here seems too gray to live in once you’ve tasted the forbidden apple. So be sure you enjoy every single moment here because you never know when will be your last!

This is why I want to cherish today. The date. Hold it tight and never let it go! Happy Anniversary to me and to my dream come true!

Me at Magnolia Bakery in 2010
Me at Magnolia Bakery in 2012