The Next American Dream explored

posted by Russ, May 20 in lifestyle design with tags , , , ,

1 comment so far
The American Dream

What is the American Dream?
Photo by hellochris.

The other morning on the way to work I was listening to NPR and they were having an interesting discussion about the American Dream. What they were considering was the idea that the American Dream is now outdated in the face of current events and the current state of the economy. It was an interesting discussion and one which I am glad that I caught. And I have to say that I am happy that people are looking for the Next American Dream rather than the old one. I have thought for a long time that the pursuit of the American Dream is making people unhappy, and this conversation really was able to help me put my finger on why.

According the the discussion, there are (or were) four pillars of the American Dream.

  • education and the ability for anyone to go to college
  • opportunity and mobility
  • home ownership
  • retirement

The basic premise that they were exploring was that the New American Dream is becoming less about materialism and more about personal freedom. Which to me means choosing to live life as each of us wants to, with less emphasis on what we have and more emphasis on what we do. So the idea of trying to keep up with the neighbors and constant yearning for more “things” is less important, and people can focus on doing and experience rather than accumulating.

But to go back to the four pillars that they discussed, it does seem about time to consider that these all mean very different things than they did when the term “American Dream” was coined in 1931.

I think that education is still very important and should still be something everyone strives for, however the idea that going to college means success is not really accurate anymore. In the age of the technology and the internet, self learning is much easier than it ever was, and college is also a different place than it was 50 years ago. In today’s market, having a college education doesn’t guarantee much, nor does lacking one keep you from lofty achievement. There are plenty of successfully programmers, entrepreneurs, and multi-millionaires out there that prove that.

Opportunity and mobility, in my mind, are still mostly the same, however again, due to technology and globalization, the game is an entirely different story.

The ideal of home ownership has certainly changed just in the past year. I think it is still part of the dream, but many are reconsidering the lengths that they will go to reach that dream. With rising oil prices, urban sprawl, climate change, and the foreclosure crisis, the way that people approach home ownership is sure to change over the coming years. Some may choose to rent in cities rather than own in the suburbs, some may reconsider where they live to save their commutes, and hopefully many will pass on the McMansions and opt for modest homes that bring them happiness and enjoyment rather than headache and debt.

As for retirement, that should remain a goal, however again in the current economy and with the inevitable demise of the social security system many are having to look at the goals for their future through different eyes. I have been a long time fan of Tim Ferriss, and he goes so far as to challenge the whole notion of retirement, instead suggesting taking mini retirements throughout your life. Certainly the idea of sabbaticals is nothing new, but this could be something more people will consider when they see that their traditional retirement at 65 may not pan out, if it does at all. Enjoying life in younger years may become more important than trying to skimp and save for just the possibility of an easy retirement.

See the NPR American Dream report here.

Originally posted on Wednesday, May 20th, 2009 at 4:05 PM .

One Response to “The Next American Dream explored”

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