I was raised to believe in the American Dream and the intrinsic value of hard work as a means to success. The current envisioning of the American Dream is, that by participating in society and the economy, everyone has the opportunity to get a good education and a good job and can become successful. “.. a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position”. James Truslow Adams These days - financial success depends more on what you do for a living, than how hard you work/how devoted you are at or to your job. How successful you are in terms of economic status is not just determined by your hard work in your chosen profession – its actually determined more by the profession you choose and the salary and benefits attached to them. Of course, if you are a screw up then you’ll lose your job anyway – but reasonable competence in the corporate world guarantees you a fairly high standard of living with few – if any, economic worries. Certainly you can still be successful in terms of job satisfaction/personal happiness no matter what your career. But I am also equally certain that the janitor cleaning those corporate offices after business hours has substantially greater economic worries than the executive whose office he’s cleaning. And that doesn’t necessarily indicate that janitor is living beyond his means.
Somewhere along the way we came to equate the American Dream solely with financial success - ie if we ain’t livin large, we ain’t livin the dream. I completely disagree with that mindset. And I’ll tell you why. In my opinion – every job is an important one. Every career path chosen not only validates our interests, but also identifies us to the world at large. No job is too insignificant. Performing your work well should be the primary factor in satisfaction but I know that many times it is not. (We don’t always get that “attaboy” or “attagirl’ from our supervisors. But we always hear about it when we screw up, right?) Anyway, I’m not sure what we can do to change the mindset. But I can tell you that I am blue collar middle class. I work hard, and I feel good about what I accomplish – every day.
Perhaps it is a gratitude issue. We Americans are a whiny self entitled bunch these days. I have a nice house, food in my fridge and freezer, most of my bills are paid or pending to be paid, I have shoes on my feet, a choice of weather appropriate clothing to wear each day, indoor plumbing, laundry facilities, health insurance, heat and electricity, and an automobile to get where I need to go, and at least a few dollars in change in my pocketbook. If I had to guess – that makes me better off than probably 75% of the rest of the planet. Most people I know are at least as well off. Even most of the poorest of us are generally better off than most of the other people on the planet. We have access to housing, medical, food and clothing, transportation – all the basics are met – or can be. And yet – complain complain complain. Because we don’t have the 52 inch plasma TV, or the jet ski, or the Beemer. From my perspective, why do we care? Having a BMW doesn’t make me “better” than anyone else (not that I actually have one) And if you are receiving assistance, why do you feel the need to have the large screen HD TV? If you can’t afford to pay for it yourself, perhaps you might consider finding something that fits into your budget. Are you meeting the needs of your family – 3 hots and a cot? Are you proactively planning for your children’s education or vocational needs? Planning for your retirement? Planning for your essential living expenses? If you aren’t doing these things/cant afford to do them , there is no place for that HD TV in your home. The world will not come to an end if you can’t watch The Avengers in HD. Get over it.
More to the point, I strongly feel that the American Dream should be about what you can DO, not what you HAVE or can GET. The American Dream should be, was intended to be, about the pursuit of happiness. I can tell you happiness is not defined by what things you possess, but rather by interpersonal relationships and self esteem. We’ve lost sight of that, much to our detriment. My ideas to increase our happiness quotient, and thereby put us on a path to achieving our dream:
- Volunteer - Helping others – without judgement - and sharing our wealth/resources is one of the best ways I know to get people out of their boxes, develop a broader world view, and develop empathy.
- Live within your means - Understand that living is about relationships not about possessions. This is perhaps the biggest issue in terms of achieving happiness. We have to redefine it and tell ourselves it is perfectly OK not to “keep up” with our neighbors.
- Learn and Practice proper Social Etiquette - Learn how to behave towards others in such a way that they feel valued – no matter their economic status, they are a person with intrinsic value and deserving of respect. You WILL feel valued in return, trust me on that. Because “in the end, the love you take – is equal to the love you make.”
I don’t have any other ideas at the moment, but would love to hear your thoughts. Feel free to comment. Thanks.