How to Survive New York, According to the City's Happiest Seniors

New York City Happiest Seniors
Jason Hoffman/Thrillist
Jason Hoffman/Thrillist

When you first moved to NYC, you were likely sent off with a barrage of frustratingly ambiguous tips: live here, not there; date out-of-towners; avoid the Meatpacking District; etc. etc. While it’s no secret that the only real strategy to surviving this city of overstimulation is to white-knuckle through most of the bad parts (and Eternal Sunshine the more egregious days with a strong glass of whiskey), there are some tips that might help alleviate the stress.

We spoke to the sagest seniors at Bronx’s Kittay House and Mill Basin’s Sunrise, as well as others who lived out their adulthoods in the city, to get their reflections on what makes for happy New York living. Turns out, it takes more than a rent-stabilized apartment.

Stop taking NYC's free, cultural opportunities for granted
“Take advantage of all the amazing things that NYC has to offer -- and all the free things. Really search for those things and do them. Because, otherwise, why live here? Any time I feel depressed all I need to do is go to the Metropolitan Museum, and that just inspires me. Because it has the work of the ages.”
-- Gretchen Cryer, 80

Actually spend your money
“What I like about New York is, you can find anything and everything you want here. I like to go shopping, I like to travel, that’s what life is all about. But I do have friends who just saved their money [their whole lives]. They’d always ask me, why are you going on so many trips? Well, money is useless if you don’t spend it. They have money in the bank, but they have nothing to think on, nothing to talk about.”
-- Jane Smith*, 82

Put off marriage
“Don’t get married young, when you don’t know who you are yet. I got married at 20 and that didn’t work out.”
-- Zelda Fassler, 83

Be your own PR agency
“There are a lot of missed chances that I look back on. When you miss chances, you don’t realize until you look back on them in retrospect. For example, I didn’t know that I needed to network. I thought that if I was just a good writer, that somehow I would get my stuff produced. I didn’t know that you needed to socialize in the company of people who are in the business you’re in. I think I just had a certain arrogance where I thought the quality of my work would be enough for me to be able to move up. I’m starting to realize that nobody wants to promote your own work more than yourself.”
-- Gretchen Cryer, 80

Appreciate your 30s
“36 was my favorite age to live in New York. I was divorced, on my own, able to travel. I didn’t have to answer to anybody. I was able to date and felt very free. That lasted until I was about 39, when I got married again in the Bronx.”
-- Roseanne Zweig, 86

Spend a little more time connecting with nature
“The parks were a saving thing. I took the kids in the summertime to Riverside Park every day. Literally, we would sit there all day and stay cool. My friends and I would take our bicycles to the park, and well, I just LIVED in the parks. They were an incredible resource and a saving thing.”
-- Gretchen Cryer, 80

Indulge in your youthful freedom
“When I was growing up, we had strict rules of behavior which I adhered to. I think it was a generational thing. My mother was very controlling. We never used to think of any young woman going out and getting an apartment of their own, that was unheard of. I think if I were young at this time, I would live my life differently. I would have my own place, my own apartment. ”
-- Roseanne Zweig, 86

Make your next real-estate move a long-term investment
“You need to move to somewhere that’s affordable, make friends, and try to make it a pretty place. [Generally what happens is,] the artist first moves to the areas they can afford, then what happens is, those areas start to prosper. And that’s exactly what happened to me. I first moved into the apartment that I’m in right now (right above 96th St) when I was pregnant with Johnny (Cryer) in 1965, and it was a derelict building. It had bullet holes in the front door, and we had muggings in the elevator. The building was in terrible shape... but I could afford it.”
-- Gretchen Cryer, 80

Take a gap year (or 20)
“I didn’t go to school until my mid-40s. When I was younger, I used to feel stupid -- I was embarrassed to tell people I hadn’t gone to school. But going to school later in life was an advantage, because I knew what I was going to do and I knew I needed a degree. I wasn’t a kid anymore, and I wasn’t daydreaming.”
-- Zelda Fassler, 83

Never stop hustling
“In certain respects, I’m still in survival mode right now. Like, for a senior like me, I figure out, both Gristedes and Garden of Eden offer 10% off on Tuesdays and Thursdays, that kind of stuff. And you look for what’s free in the city, like a lot of concerts and stuff that goes on in Central Park. I’ve always existed on that kind of thing.”
-- Gretchen Cryer, 80

Have realistic #relationshipgoals
“A lot of life is instinct. I never thought I’d get married, but when I was with this woman [my wife], I realized I had a prize. She was so good. Of course we would argue, it’s only normal. But we wouldn’t let it linger.”
-- Joe Allotta, 90

“[In love], you sometimes have to settle, and try to see if the other person can change. There are things you can change. Like, you can see that they stop drinking. Or, if their hygiene is poor, you can make them change that.”
-- Jane Smith, 82

Lower your expectations
“I know this sounds crazy, but don’t have great expectations. HA! Just be able to go with the flow. If something doesn’t work out, then, OK, on to the next thing.”
-- Gretchen Cryer, 80

*Name has been changed.

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Michelle No is an associate staff writer at Thrillist and Gretchen Cryer is her NYC role model. Follow her on Instagram.