When I talked to my mom about her life choices, I started reflecting on the “American Dream,” especially the part that says each generation should “do better” than the last. The idea that everyone has a right to pursue her dreams and goals and can achieve them if she works hard–well, that sounds great.
But the American Dream is often defined in material terms: “better” means bigger house, bigger car, more education, more monetary wealth.
This is an expectation that weighs heavily on the American psyche, for individuals and the society as a whole. We feel pressure to go to college, and increasingly, graduate school (hence a lack of trades professionals and huge student debts). We feel pressure to acquire and display as much as those around us (hence astronomical levels of personal debt). We feel judged for making out-of-the-box, less lucrative decisions (like being a stay at home mom).
When you take a generational view, though, this is impossible. Where is the ceiling? When are we satisfied by how much we have? The expectation that we keep getting more is an unsustainable model in terms of both happiness and material reality. The American Dream, so defined, is a myth.
And the focus on material gain has set off an environmental and economic implosion.
For an explanation of why straight lines don’t work, watch “The Story of Stuff”:
And for more on the implosion part, I’m going to be reading Paul Gilding’s “The Great Disruption”
We need an attitude adjustment. We need to prioritize our deeper happiness over material wealth, and allow a long-term view in this respect to shape our short-term decisions.
Studies show that there is a limit to how much happiness money can “buy”–generally just beyond the point where a person can comfortably cover his living expenses. It’s not money, but things like relationships and how you spend your time that drives life satisfaction.
I’m sorry to get so serious, but I see my decision to pursue a new model for myself as reflective of a greater trend in society. I’m not alone among my friends in wanting to change my life along these lines. My readers give me further proof that this isn’t just some personal whim. Maybe this itch is part of our survival mechanism kicking in, an innate recognition that our race won’t make it if we keep going along this path.
By leaving a traditional career behind and instead pursuing income from interests and activities that are more satisfying, I might be turning away from a bigger salary and/or career prestige.
But if my husband and I…
- are willing to be realistic about what we really need and can be happier with less STUFF
- value people and experiences over things and money
- find ways to include our passions as a greater part of our day
- define success in terms of satisfaction and the greater impact of what we do
…then I think we’ll be ok.