The other day I was asked by someone whom I consider to be a close friend what I think the phrase “The American Dream” truly means. I thought about it, mulling it over in my mind, and finally said, “it means whatever you want it to mean”. He looked at me and, without hesitation responded with, “okay, but this is for a project so answer the question correctly”.
This entire transaction made me question a lot of things not only in my life but in the lives of those around me. “What am I doing not only with my life but also with right now?” “How am I living out my American Dream?” and “Do I even know my American Dream?”
Vanity Fair states that the American dream, when not defined by wealth or status, is used to describe success and achievements. This American Dream, this idea that inspired a nation, like everything, grew corrupt, its original meaning and purpose now that of mere monetary value and worth. Was this country not created on the dream of being happy despite wealth and money? How can we come so far from who we once were? When did we lose our way? Was it one defining moment? Or perhaps it was a series of moments that defined us?
On society’s standards, one cannot be happy until they are considered wealthy. What defines wealthy? Determining wealth surely cannot be determined merely by income or social status. The amount of clothing one has or the size of their house cannot be indicators of success. Too many times people overwork themselves under the illusion that what they are doing is best for themselves and for their family when in reality they are doing nothing more that hurting themselves in an obscene and upsetting way.
I have seen firsthand families who, after working a long day making below minimum wage, come home to their houses with a smile. Parents who, although they are not the richest in terms of money, have the richest hearts. Children who know that they are loved by parents that do not spend every waking second at work. Families who, although they appear to have very little, have so much more than the majority of America.
James Turslow Adams wrote in his book “The Epic of America” that the American Dream is “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement … It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but 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. [italics added]” (p.214-215).
The American Dream does not have to be that of only wealth. It does not have to be a competition to get the most money, leaving those closest to you feeling neglected and saddened by your obsession with status. The American Dream does not have to tear families and friends apart.
I have included two videos in this post. The first is a music video from the band MKTO and the second is from the band Casting Crowns (please bear with the second video. It’s from the late 2000’s so its very… retro). Both are named “American Dream” and both tell similar stories of how far America has come from realizing that the commonly accepted “Dream” of wealth which everyone hopes to achieve is truly nothing more than a nightmare in disguise. Both videos show that following the American Dream is to follow your heart, following the American Dream is following what you love.
So now I ask you. What is your American Dream? Is it that of monetary value. Does your life mean nothing more than working to get money so provide for yourself of for your family? Or is your American Dream of love, loving yourself, loving others, doing what you love? Sometimes it is so easy to get swept away in the idea that if we have just a little more money we will be happy but I know that happiness does not come from money, happiness comes from being with those we love and doing what we love.
So what is it? What is your American Dream?
James Turslow Adams: The Epic of America (1931).