In pursuit of the American Dream

Is the American Dream the dream job, dream house, dream car, and dream business? Is it selling your soul to corporate America in order to pay off an enormous mortgage and pay for the SUVs in the driveway?

BOISE, October 5, 2011—We’ve grown up with the American Dream. Since childhood we’ve heard those words bandied about and it’s been the goal we’re supposed to work toward.

  • Study hard and learn all you’re supposed to! It’ll help you achieve the American Dream.
  • Be responsible and trustworthy! It’ll help you achieve the American Dream.
  • Give back to your community and be a good neighbor! It’ll help you achieve the American Dream.

The American Dream is never quite defined. It always stops just shy of telling us exactly what it is. And yet, we all know what it is anyway.

The American Dream came into existence way back in the 1600’s when immigrants flocked to the country seeking more opportunities. Land was for the taking and the promise of a better life beckoned. The funny thing is that nobody ever seemed to actually attain that dream.

As the Royal governor of Virginia noted in 1774, Americans “for ever imagine the Lands further off are still better than those upon which they are already settled.” He added that if they attained Paradise, they would move on if they heard of a better place farther west.

The American Dream in the United States generally includes a promise of the possibility of prosperity and success. As James Truslow Adams defined the dream in 1931, “Life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement” regardless of social class or circumstances of birth.

The idea of the American Dream is rooted in the United States Declaration of Independence which proclaims that “all men are created equal” and that they are “endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights,” including “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

MetLife Insurance recently did a survey to find out what Americans consider the most important aspects of the American Dream today. Those surveyed prioritized the dream this way (respondents were asked to pick their top three criteria):

  • Financial security:  65%
  • Family/children: 58%
  • Free from want, my basic needs are met: 43%
  • Comfortable retirement: 36%
  • Home ownership: 35%
  • Successful career: 31%
  • Marriage: 29%
  • Others: 3%

Of the top seven criteria for achieving the American Dream, five of them are money related. In other words, 70 percent of the ways one could attain the dream involve making money.

This scares me. Is money all there is to the American Dream? Is money the pathway to happiness and road to contentment? Is it the end-all and be-all that we should all strive for?

I am hoping the survey was presented in such a way that respondents were given a predetermined set of choices that were heavily dominated with money. I’m hoping the survey was skewed in such a way that other, more meaningful ways of achieving the American Dream were not included. If not, we’re in trouble.

What happened to the idea of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? What happened to the basic idea of being free to choose what we’ll do and who we’ll be? What happened to creativity and pleasure? If we’re pursuing our passions, but they don’t lead to financial advancement, is that not “good enough” for the American Dream?

What is the American Dream anyway?

Is the American Dream the dream job, dream house, dream car, and dream business? Is it taking off every morning and spending your day in a cubicle while your children entertain themselves? Is the American Dream selling your soul to corporate America in order to pay off an enormous mortgage and pay for the SUVs in the driveway?

For me, the American Dream is more. A lot more. It’s time with my husband and children. It’s freedom to pursue my passions – wherever they lead. It’s the ability to design my life in a way that brings me true happiness, not just financial security.

I ask you, dear reader, what is your definition of the American Dream? What are the critical elements in that dream for you? What is the American Dream anyway?

Nancy Sathre-Vogel is just a mom who decided to take a bike ride. On the longest road in the world.  Some people say she’s exceptionally brave. Others say she’s outrageously foolish. She doesn’t think she’s either. She’s just a mom who wanted an adventure and time with her kids. Her most recent adventure was cycling from Alaska to Argentina, a journey she documented at www.familyonbikes.org 

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Nancy Sathre-Vogel

Nancy Sathre-Vogel is a modern-day nomad and vagabond who travels the world in search of beads and other treasures.

Her preferred mode of transportation is a bicycle, although she’s been known to travel in car, bus, plane, boat, donkey cart, elephant, and camel. She is now pedaling the length of the Americas because her eleven-year-old sons have decided they want to get the Guinness World Record as the youngest people to cycle the Pan-American Highway.

Although there are times when she questions her sanity, she somehow keeps going, knowing that treasures await in countries far and wide. You can read about her and her travels at www.familyonbikes.org. Emails are always welcome.

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