The American Dream. It’s something that most Americans- and many people living western lifestyles around the world – have aspired to do in the twenty and twenty-first centuries. The American Dream means “you’ve made it” in this world.
But what really is the American Dream? If you look at it over its history, the American Dream was created as a way to address a consumer society, giving the impression we are the richest nation on earth.
It was designed to push materialism – the more you buy, the more you have, the more you show off, the greater your appearance of being happy.
It was designed to promote products – everyone has access to buy anything they truly desire, whether they can afford it or not, whether they pay cash or use credit.
It was designed to create choice – the more choices you have, the better you’ll feel when you finally make your choice.
It was designed to inspire newness – fads and novelties meant more need. The more you need, the more you consume, the more we’ll grow as a nation.
And that’s where we are today.
The American Dream is alive and well. And failing. You buy things. You have things. And yet happiness is more unachievable now then ever before.
A number of years ago, when I first started out on my own as a self-employed business owner, I was probably like most people in America today. I started my own business to have something more – more time, more freedom, more income, more possibilities. And I was pursuing things with the “when I get to the next level” philosophy that most of us have engrained into us from simply living the American lifestyle.
Then I attended a seminar. The speaker said something I’ll never forget. He asked a few questions like “How much money will you need to be successful?” and “What do you need to achieve to feel like you’ve made it in business?” Of course there was chatter all around the room as we threw lots of things out to him. He spent several minutes listing out all the different things people said.
Then he paused for a moment and said, “The answer is none of the above. You’ll never be successful if you always have a list of things to accomplish before it happens. If you don’t feel you’ve reached success with what you have today, there will always be something out of reach that prevents you from getting there.”
I started looking at my life in a whole new way at that point. If I’m not living every day to my fullest potential, I need to change how I’m living. Instead of dreaming about what I’ll buy when I make a million dollars, I focus in on what I need today to be happy. The million sitting in the bank won’t make me happy if I don’t have a strong relationship with my daughter, for instance. While I can’t make a million dollars today, I can take my daughter out for a walk and learn more about who she is.
In many cases, it’s looking at what you have and what you are grateful for right now. If your life is full of “when I get…” or “when I achieve…”, you will always be fighting an uphill battle. Instead of asking future questions, focus in on “now” questions, such as “I’m most happy with…” or “I love this about (myself, my business, my home, my relationship, etc)”.
It’s also about physically designing the kind of life you want from a feeling standpoint rather than a material possession standpoint. People are under the misconception they can have it all. In some cases, a step backwards can help you see things in a different way, giving you clear guidance for moving forward. For example, instead of buying a new house, renting for a few more years may give you the flexibility you need to start up a new business you’ve been dreaming of.
Which of course brings me to the concept of the American Dream.
In the past, the American Dream was based around consumerism. It created a growing economy that brought “things” to everyone. But we’ve quickly found out that “things” don’t equate to happiness.
Which is why we are seeing many, many people leaving the traditional way of life in droves.
Minimalism. Lifestyle design. Nomad living. Downsizing. All of these words are popping up faster than ever before. And while we’re seeing a huge amount of Gen Y’s opting for this type of lifestyle, we’re also seeing it expand into the Gen X and even Baby Boomer generations as well.
If you’re 50, work 70 hours per week, scared to take your two week vacation for fear your job won’t be there when you return, all because you have to be able to make payments on the big house and luxury car, does all that really matter?
What if you quit the job, sell the house, and opt for public transportation instead?
If you’re monthly expenses change from $5,000 per month down to $1,000 per month, you no longer need the “million” dollars in the bank to do what you want to do.
What will The American Dream look like in the future?
Only time will tell. But with this new rush of changing lifestyles, I’m betting consumerism won’t be a part of it.