Maybe It’s Time to Rethink the American Dream

Maybe It’s Time To Re-think The American Dream
Cultural Essay
Published October 2013. Positive 365

I’m not sure exactly sure how many blogs are published around the world. For simplicity, let’s say 100 million, give or take. By my un-scientific estimates, 99,999,000 of these blogs are about empowerment, living your dreams, being all that you can be, become the great human being you were meant to be, leaping tall buildings at a single bound, etc. Of course, it’s likely that 99% of the 99.9% of blogs on personal empowerment are only read by the authors of those blogs, but whose counting?

OK, I understand that because I’m writing for Positive I should be, well, positive instead of…cynical? But, be honest, aren’t you a little overwhelmed by our cultural obsession with positivity, dream-living, personal empowerment and the suggestion that you can leap tall buildings at a single bound (Note: for those of you under 40, the previous line was from the opening scenes of the 1950s television series, Superman). I get it: we all want to live a richer, happier life. It’s just that we’ve been spoon fed the notion of “the American Dream” for so long that, on some level, we are crushed by the realization that we don’t always have the stuff of dreams. We don’t want ordinary. Or average. Or, just good enough. We dream about being featured on Entertainment Tonight or jumping up and down on Oprah’s sofa or waxing hysterical with Jimmy Kimmel. We want to write the great American novel. We want to walk the red carpet at Cannes. We want the corner office.

In a recent study ranking countries based on the degree of happiness of their citizens, America ranked 17th. Think about that for a second: we lap almost every developed country several times over in terms of material wealth and opportunity. Yet, we are essentially a pretty miserable lot of people. By the way, this dismal happiness ranking is not something new. America has ranked low on such measures for decades.

So, why, with so much are we so miserable? My theory: we spend too much time “American-dreaming” and not enough time “American-being.” Research tells us that our primary personality traits will never change because we are essentially hard-wired. You are born a worrier or a detail-person or gregarious or curious or passive or aggressive….and nothing, short of some sort of brain trauma, will change who you are. You may dream of writing the great American novel, but you may be hard -wired to be an accountant or pipe-fitter or meteorologist. This doesn’t mean you can’t write a novel. At night. On the weekend. During your lunch break. Write it because you love to write. Don’t write with the expectation of a movie deal and a 30 minute slot on Charlie Rose. It’s been said that artists are among the most un-happy people because of the gap between their talent and expectations. But yet, they are living “their dreams.”

I’m not knocking positivity. But you can think positive thoughts all the time and your life may not change because you MAY be living the life you are supposed to live. Or you can’t bridge the gap between your true abilities and your dreams of what “should be.” You may be working in an office from nine to five every day and insist you are miserable because millions of personal empowerment blogs have convinced you of your misery. When the truth might be: it’s what you’re supposed to be doing. So, take a deep breath and focus on the work in front of you.

It’s fun to daydream, to fantasize about walking down the red carpet or appearing on the big screen. I do it all the time. But then it’s time to get back to reality. I believe that practicing acceptance of where you are NOW is a much better strategy for long-term contentment and happiness than excessive dreaming.

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