We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
Our Recent Essays Behind the Front Page
Thursday, April 28. 2022
What Is The American Dream?
I recently took a poll about whether the American Dream is a myth or fact, and whether it's more achievable or less so today.
I know my views aren't the same as most, but I think my take on the American Dream makes it more attainable than ever. The American Dream is whatever you want it to be, and ultimately it's whether or not you're happy with yourself and your life. It's not money, it's not home ownership, it's not success or fame. It may be, if those are things you believe will make you happy. However, if you're happy and you like yourself and your life, then you've achieved the American Dream. In many nations, just surviving is a problem, and in many advanced nations, living your life with limited intereference from elites, politicians, cranks and other non-essentials is impossible. In the US, it's not impossible to go through life while limiting external interference, and focus on your own happiness. (Allow me to clarify - there is always external interference, but how you deal with it and react to it is what enables you to limit its impact on your life.)
So why do a fairly large number of people believe the Dream is no longer achievable, or that it is/was a myth? Why are there so many people who currently feel the Dream is unachievable, or less achievable than when their parents were younger?
Since I was a child, the term "The American Dream" led to assumptions of getting rich, having fame, having financial stability, owning a home. In the last 30 years, we've seen the first happen for a select few (tech specialists/entrepreneurs), home ownership skyrocket then collapse (2008), success/fame seems to have ups and downs (OK, Boomer), and financial stability is something more people seem to say isn't available (I know that I have spent over 2 years on unemployment in the last 22 years, but I'd still say financial stability is available and readily attainable if you apply yourself). It is the broad assumptions regarding The Dream which make it understandable that select groups of people will feel it's not attainable. But as bad as the broad definition is, there's another thing that helps craft and magnify the negative psyche.
Social media, which is widely maligned, is an ecosystem which this blog is part of. It provides the ability to reach people at an individual level, allowing the opportunity to share thoughts and ideas. You get to choose where you get your information and resources from by visiting sources you prefer and which comfort or inform you. As a result, if you're negative, you'll tend to collect information from purveyors of negative views, and discount positive views. More importantly, if you read about others doing well, having success, and having things you don't have - social media can compound whichever views you have developed. It magnifies the effect of information collection. It has, as a result of tech manipulation, managed to promote an assumption that 'now there is more bad than good'. This, in turn, has raised the awareness regarding the unachievable nature of the American Dream as a concept for many people. As a regular user (and provider, here at Maggie's) of social media, I have astutely avoided the negativity because I utilize many varied sources of information rather than just social media. Social media is a net good, but as it has been used by the poorly educated, it's created a kind of tunnel vision and/or echo chamber. It is the comfort food of information resources.
When I first entered this realm, over 10 years ago, it was explained to me that when you see people on Facebook or Twitter living a presumably dream life, usually the image you see makes you feel worse about your own situation - even if their situation isn't really a "dream life". Example - I have a good friend who made a fortune in tech years ago. She travels wherever she wants, whenever she wants, and I love seeing her pictures. Am I jealous? Secretly...yes (oops, not so secret now), but not really. Where others feel like "why does she have it so good, and I am stuck here at home?", I simply say "Good for her, I'll get there someday. Or I won't. But I'm happy for her." Many people, however, just remain intensely jealous and feel bad they can't live her life. I know people who have said "I wish she'd stop posting." Me? I love seeing where she goes. It's exhilirating and helps me form ideas for places I'd like to see.
This is where surveys like the one I was taking go awry. Given the opportunity share my own view, I said that the American Dream is about being happy. Happy with yourself. Happy with your family. Happy with your life and what you do. Will success make me happy? Maybe. Will owning a home? Maybe not - it's actually kind've a pain. Will financial stability? I have a large degree of that, but even when things are stable, you're never feeling completely comfortable. Real financial stability comes with an understanding of risk and the fact that it can all go away, which is just part of what makes people feel negative (though I believe it makes me happy to understand this fact). But the survey was designed to push people to say the American Dream is dead (my knowledge of statistics allowed me to see through how the questions were crafted to generate a desired result), but I pushed back on what they wanted to see, because the dream is very much alive.
I know, because I have the American Dream. I'm happy, and when things go poorly (as they did last year) I believe I can improve my situation. I know many successful friends and family who feel the American Dream is unattainable and are negative about its achievability, or even call it a myth, simply because they aren't happy themselves. They have all the things the Dream presumably offers, so why would they be negative? Because they had to work harder than they thought they'd have to. Because they are doing something they don't love. Because they have benchmarked themselves against others. There are a lot of reasons why people who have achieved the American Dream immediately discount it, and become negative about it. None of them are reasonable or realistic. It's based on a misunderstanding of what the American Dream represents. They've been sold a bill of goods regarding it, and never analyzed what they bought into.
Long ago, I decided you can only benchmark yourself against who you were yesterday. By that standard, I'm doing better each day financially, mentally, and physically because I put the effort in each day. Even when I was down last year about being on the unemployment lines, I spent time at the Food Bank volunteering - so others could lift themselves up. That made me feel good. And as my jobless situation extended out longer and longer, I should have gotten more negative. I didn't.
I knew I could improve my situation. I was also acutely aware of how badly off others can be. By maintaining this balance, I felt anything was attainable. Attitude is everything when it comes to achieving the American Dream.
The American Dream isn't any one thing. It varies from person to person. Your version of it is going to be very different than mine. Will you be happy owning a farm? Living in the woods? Whatever makes you happy and content won't be what makes me happy and content. Ultimately THAT is the American Dream - whatever we want it to be for ourselves. As long as we look at others to determine how we're doing in achieving whatever dream we have - we're never going to live our dream. As long as others define the American Dream for us, it will remain a mirage on the horizon.
In "The Gilded Age", Julian Fellows has shown how the ultra rich of the late 1800s were the rock stars and Hollywood stars of today. But there was less information about them (no social media), and what there was available, was all manipulated to craft an image. Today, with social media you can craft an image, but that image can also can crash much faster and in a more damaging fashion. That is why the aspirations of the 1800s led to many saying "it's America - I can achieve that." The plethora of information and constant torrent of celebrity news today makes many feel worse about themselves. This allows the already successful to be even more successful. Hollywood stars spin off a million brands based on their names and images, taking a piece of the action along the way. Good for them. Seems impossible for others, who don't have that head start, to match them or catch up. But it isn't.
More importantly, this by no means assures happiness. I'd say the American Dream is alive and well, is not a myth, and is more achievable today than ever before. But you have to focus on what's important in making yourself happy to achieve it, and stop paying attention to everyone else.
Posted by Bulldog in The Culture, "Culture," Pop Culture and Recreation at 11:22 | Comments (15) | Trackbacks (0)
Trackback specific URI for this entry
Display comments as (Linear | Threaded)
My American dream is different now from what it was 30 years ago. In the past it was all about things. Now it is more about experiences. Now my dreams are enjoying the time with my wife, children and grandson. Now my dream is to help them find the balance in there lives between work and family. So far we are succeeding.
It’s not so much the “dream” part that bothers me as it is the “American.” I feel like one night I went to sleep in America and when I woke up I was in Weirdostan. Radical change happened that fast. America had its problems, like any nation, but at least I understood them. Now the national issues are just plain, well, weird. Does anyone else feel this way?
Lately I've been feeling that after I woke up I found the evil crazy people had taken over overnight. I despise them for all the pain they are inflicting on the country.
I readily identify with your consternation of what America has become. Weirdostan as you name it. Ha ha I'm stealing that. But, the truth is Weirdostan isn't a very big part of my life - I know it exists, and find it fascinating reading about and seeing it via video, but it doesn't affect me personally. This is true in many ways - I have a comfortable, safe, secure life that is far from perfect, but it's good enough. I feel a lot of gratitude that my good fortune was to be born an American, and despite the place it's become, one day, perhaps not terribly far off, it will shake off its weirdness and become once again the home you and I remember.
i am with you, princess. I am all of 64, and I no longer recognize this country.
The dream is not dead.
People just need to lower their expectations.
As long as you have your health, plenty to eat, and a warm, safe place to call home, life is good.
By that standard, most people have realized the American dream.
It's okay to want more, but that's when the frustration will set in. In the quest to get more no one ever has enough. There's always one more thing . . .
It's still the Land of Opportunity in a way unlike any other nation. Similarly, at times I conclude that the world of Social Media is better described as the Land of Opportunists.
My wife and daughter were both green-card immigrants, now citizens of the USA. All of us are forever grateful for the opportunities that we have had to pursue the American Dream, which we live every day, but their perspective is the fuller one.
A large majority of the people that I worked with overseas over the years told me they wanted to immigrate here, whether they had ever visited or not.
Dreams of happiness are universal, there’s nothing particularly American about them. You’ve introduced a topic without taking a meaningful position.
The American Dream isn’t -- or wasn’t -- so nebulous. It includes elements from a set that can be adjusted by personal preference and starting position. Elements commonly sought were freedom from persecution, the opportunity for productive work, to achieve basic security, and to create wealth and a legacy which one’s progeny could build on.
That last element is the one now lacking. Fewer people even bother to have progeny, and the next generation is headed toward less of the other elements in the set.
The American Dream was about improvement in condition for the current generation and posterity. It was never about the availability of cheap entertainments nor libertine consumption.
The American Dream has been supplanted by nihilistic hedonism.
I'm in debt up to my shoulders, used to be my eyes, so, progress. I own the farm and operate it on my own. So yes I'm living my dream. Dad warned me it wouldn't be easy but it's MINE, well the bank and mine. Live in an old ramshackle farm house with a wonderful wife and we raised 4 kids (sadly lost the fifth as a child). Now my youngest son is taking over, yes it is the American dream, however you have to realize that the roses that smell the best have thorns
You don't understand the Dream? It's because it was already handed to you.
''More importantly, this by no means assures happiness. I'd say the American Dream is alive and well, is not a myth, and is more achievable today than ever before. But you have to focus on what's important in making yourself happy to achieve it, and stop paying attention to everyone else.''
Spot on, good article.
There are so many kinds of happiness, and each knows it in his own way and according to the size of the hole in the wall through which he views life. ~George A. Dorsey, Young Low, 1917
A thing can be a myth and be real at the same time.
It's about living in a classless society and having the opportunity to improve your lot in life. For most people throughout history that was not possible, no matter what you did. For most, if you were born a peasant, your children were also born peasants.
I agree fully with the thrust of the article. Our society has changed from one where land was cheap and labor was expensive to one where land is often not cheap, and one's labor can have little value on the market if it doesn't come with the skills to make it worth paying for. On the other hand, there is so much cultural, geographic, and economic variety in this country that there should be a place for anyone who decides to make himself useful. If one has reasonably good health, there is little in the way of someone who wants to live a satisfying life.
For me the American Dream is that you can work hard to improve your life. The way I measure that: I have the family I love, the home we own and a career that I enjoy.
I agree that some people seem far too jealous of people we see raking in the millions and living insanely good lives. I don't measure my happiness that way. Sure, we don't have everything we'd WANT to have. But we have what we need.
How many people who've ever lived can say that?
I'm not sure I understand the cartoon- "100 acres, horses, cattle sheep..." Wouldn't you have to quit your job in order to manage all of that? And would doing so make you better off?