What is 'The American Dream'?
Many people try to fill their voids with stuff. Therefore, we make consumer purchases. A lot of consumer purchases. We are really good at spending money faster than we earn it. Everyone wants to find happiness and we think that next purchase will make us happier. Shouldn't happiness be just right around the corner? So many of us live paycheck to paycheck so we can acquire more stuff. We live for a paycheck. We live for stuff. The thing about it though, is that we are not living at all.
We always long for more. We are like puppets, whose strings are being pulled by mother nature and evolution. We constantly feel restless and are continuously scratching for more. It's why lottery winners are miserable and why homeowners have three car garages. As humans, we are wired to become dissatisfied. It's almost like an addiction. We are encouraged to maintain the addiction through media. There is an illusion created of what our lives should look like. Open Esquire or Vanity Fair and you see sexy women and glamorous lives. That's when the project begins .. we ask ourselves how can we achieve that or get as close as we can get? Advertising has polluted our culture. Movies, TV's, books, it's even on taxi cabs. It's not something that has happened overnight. It's been sold to us for the past 75-100 years slowly yet surely by those who want to make a lot of money. They want us to believe that you really do need these things. Every year that passes there is more noise, more media, more pressure, more options. How can we change this? By simplifying and learning there are more options .. it's a wakeup call that is critical. At what point do we realize what is important and what is just stuff? Books, dvds, movies, closets full of expensive clothes and jewelry, drawers upon drawers of things. Things that I brought into my life without much thought or question. Every possession should serve a purpose or bring joy. If only every individual could justify if what they have adds value to their life and if not, let it go. We should all learn to live more with less. Money seems to be the root of all evil. Getting a newer car, a bigger house, a better paycheck, the next promotion. We are constantly trying to get more money to get more stuff. So I ask what is the 'American Dream'? I always thought I knew, until recently. You name it, we've probably had it. I have been so guilty as to buy something just for pure joy (in the moment). I would often purchase a trinket here or there for the coffee table or grab the latest fashion pillow to throw on the couch.
The American dream started out as a concept that was more about opportunity. The US is the land of opportunity where someone could start out at the bottom work hard and do well. There is no question that what it means to have made it to achieve the American dream in the US has increased tremendously in material terms. $100,000+ income became more an aspirational norm across society because that is the norm that is on TV. In 1983, companies spent $100 million marketing to children. In 2006, companies spent $17 billion. We end up accumulating so much stuff we need space on top of space. Therefore there is a 2.2 billion square foot personal storage industry. It's a sad truth however, I'm guilty of that in the past as well. There are people living in these gigantic homes yet if you really look at it people don't use the space that they have. There was a study that was done with a heat map of a family of four to show where people traveled within their home on a normal day. What they found was that they used maybe 40% of their space. It creates this big vacuum that you have to fill so people are throwing more stuff at you to fill your homes with things that you don't need. We are living our life depending on the space we've got instead of creating our space to live our lives.
Who needs more than one dining table? Nothing is more responsible than living in the smallest space you can. I opt for a Tiny House. Imagine a life with less. Less stress, less stuff, less debt. Imagine a life with more. More meaningful relationships, more time, more contribution and contentment. In 2006 my husband had purchased a family business that has grown over 300% (current year 2017). We have three full time employees with my husband working part time. I am 32 years young with 2 kids, 9 yr old and 7 yr old and have been married since 2005. I've been with my husband since the 7th grade (this year marks 20 years!) We have sold most of what we have and are making the leap to live a happier life with less stuff in Costa Rica this fall. It is so freeing with each item gone. You can have it all and still be unhappy. Its a happiness within yourself, not within the stuff you purchase. My kids are getting older and before I know it, they'll want to be on their own. Before that happens, I want to try and show them life. If you sit and ask patients who are dying often look back on their lives and wish they still had the chance to do things that they didn't.
Unfortunately it is too late for them. For you though, you still have the opportunity to do the things that can make you more content and fulfilled in life. Top five regrets of the dying: I'd wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. I wish I hadn't worked so hard. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. I wish that I had let myself be happier. We have things that we are obsessed about then the new version comes out which is new and improved in a dozen ways. Now, you no longer care about the one you have. If fact the one you have is a source of dissatisfaction.
I think we are confused about what it going to make us happy. It is clear as human beings we have strong attachment in our lives to people who are caring for us. Sometimes it feels like those attachments spill over into objects as if they were as important as people. How is our relationship with things? ie. Black Friday Shopping. (not so good). We are too materialistic in the everyday sense of the word and we are not at all materialistic enough in the true sense of the word. We need to really care about the materiality of goods. Instead we are in a world in which material goods are so important for their symbolic meaning and what they do to position us in a status system based on what advertising or marketing says they're about.
Our moms and grandmothers would shop maybe four times a year - sometimes only twice a year depending on the weather, the hot season and the cold season. Now you see a fashion cycle of 52 seasons a year. They want you to feel out of trend after one week, so that you will buy something the following week. There have actually been accounts of big fashion retailers that will slash through more than just the prices. They slash the clothes with box cutters or razors to make sure that they never would be worn or sold. They want consumers to buy as much clothing as quickly as possible. The concept of fashion it embodies in it the idea that you can throw things away, not when they are no longer useable but when they're no longer fashionable or have that social value.
Is Money the answer to happiness?
I have come across very successful men and women with all of this money and all of this prestige and all of this professional background behind them that they weren't happy. They're very successful but not in an absolute sense. They are dollars and cents successful. It seems far more likely that I can find a definition of success that will actually get me to a place where I am successful and incredibly happy. Jim Carrey once quoted, "I wish everyone could become rich and famous so they could realize it's not the answer." You think that more money is going to give you more security.
The problem is you don't necessarily have control over making more. One thing you do have control over is spending less. What you do have control over is having less and that by having less you automatically stretch what you do have. There is more to life other than bills money and work. This life is yours. Make it a wild and flamboyant one. Keeping up with the Jones' is not what life is about. Once we realize that, we can create a template of our own.
Right on! I was listening to the local radio stations in Va..and about half of them were trying to get me to buy a new car or a t.v. My son quotes commercials. Its terrible…but a realization that making money is just a reason to spend it continuously on new things over and over again. This is corporate America is now selling as the American Dream.