Lately I have found myself thinking about the American Dream.
When I think about that term, the image that typically comes to mind is one similar to the image below.
A smiling, well dress, well behaved, quite near perfect looking family. The funny thing is I Googled, “The American Dream Family” and these are the images that popped up.
Yep, all the same and completely 100% stereotypical, really. The American Dream was ultimately about success. Rising from poverty to defeat all barriers set before them to raise children, buy a home and emerge to a “comfort” status that was once the markings of success, contentment and happiness. The wish to set forth and make a life that was better than your parents. But, even that dream scenario, predates the images pictured above.
The American Dream was about opportunity and more importantly, hard work. It was about getting married, buying a home, starting a family, rising in status (whether that be corporately or socially or both) and living a comfortable life. To me the definition was defined by achieving successes within one’s life.
According, to This Website, the “term ‘American dream’ is used in many ways, but it essentially is an idea that suggests that anyone in the US can succeed through hard work and has the potential to lead a happy, successful life.”
So, guess what? I am calling bullshit on that! Particularly the part that reads – “Anyone in the US can succeed through hard work and has the potential to lead a happy, successful life.”
Let me be clear. I refuse to get into a political or social rant. That is not what this Blog is about or what this post is about. That is a conversation for another day.
Today I want to again focus, on the definition of the American Dream and how it has evolved for me and maybe many others.
Two words standout in the line above – Hard work and Happy. Unfortunately, one does not and will not bring on the other. Just because you work hard everyday does not mean it will all work out for you and that you will find happiness. You can spend your whole life working hard, giving blood sweat and tears, and you may never climb the corporate ladder or lay your head down at night and feel happy. You can give your all day in and day out and never feel rewarded or valued. You can work yourself so hard that you jeopardize your health and well being, your family life, your relationships and you will not miraculously wake up one morning with a smile on your face because of all the hours and / or physical labor you put in.
No. It won’t happen and do you want to know why? Because that is no longer the American Dream – work hard and you will be happy.
Instead, to me, and I would argue, the majority of American’s, the American Dream is solely reliant now on happiness. One is not happy because they are successful. One is successful because they are happy. And, happiness is not something that comes from working 50+ hours a week, working though holidays, proving your worth each day, putting your body through unruly physical labor and giving your all until you feel you can no longer give.
Now do not start an argument with me, saying I am sending the wrong message. That I am telling today’s society and youth that hard work does not matter. That is not my point. Hard work does matter in life and delivers beautiful results. I was raised by hard working parents who instilled such values in me. I learned from a young age, to go into the workforce and ‘work hard.’ And, by that I think what my parents really were saying by “work hard” was, “be a dependable, trustworthy individual, who gives, who learns and who really tries,” They never said work until you can no longer concentrate, work until your health suffers, work until your mental state dwindles or work until you cannot pick-up and go on. But, that is what we as American’s are doing to ourselves and to each other. The United States is one of the only developed countries to not guarantee vacation time and let’s be honest, our maternity leave is an utter joke. When a co-worker requests or takes vacation time, many times our emotions range from jealousy to frustration, instead of what they should be and that is encouraging and welcomed. Instead we view time-off as undeserving and a sign of non-commitment.
I believe a new American Dream has emerged. Today, the American Dream I strive for is purely based on happiness. And, while being happy did exist before, that happy was defined by the success of achieving life moments and milestones.
I would bet that a majority of people quit jobs not for another opportunity because it pays more or is a promotion, but because a new job opens up their schedule to allow them more time for their hobbies, or allows for much needed family time, or shortens their commute, any of those things that may make them more happy at the end of the day. There is a strong need for American’s to find a healthy balance in their lives. It is a common theme I hear more and more among co-workers, friends and family. The inevitable search to find a better work-life balance. That happiness is contingent on the peace you feel in your soul, not the numbers on a paycheck, not the title under your name at your workplace, not because you own a home and not because you had kids, because you are “an adult and are supposed to.” Happiness is individually versus society driven.
I have always said, “I am a person motivated by happiness.” To me success is defined by a sense of happiness and contentment in ones life.
I would assume that many people feel this way and that a new American Dream is being defined.
Personally, I find it refreshing, yet harder to achieve than the Stepford Wives dream that is showcased in pictures above. I don’t know if in five years one will be able to do like I did and Google – “The American Dream Family,” and yield any new, contemporary families. And, actually I hope they won’t be able to, because the American Dream is shifting from what we see on the outside looking in to what we feel on the inside and radiate out. You cannot capture that or define that in a picture, you can only live, breathe and exhale that out.