In our search for silver linings to the economic clouds, consider Michele Catalano’s argument that our financial woes may return us to a nobler version of the storied “American dream.”
Although the term was coined in 1931 by James Truslow Adams, who defined it as “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 really was, for the most part, about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Over the years, the dream has changed accordingly, defined by what we think will bring us happiness. However, it has not changed in a good way.
Long ago, the American Dream was one of simplicity. The proverbial white-picket-fence dream was made of both tangibles and intangibles; everyone wanted a home of their own for their family and a steady job that would provide not only the house, but for the comfort, safety, and well-being of their family. That’s what the dream was about. Prosperity was found not in the money you made or the things you owned, but the feeling of well-being that came with providing a comfortable life for your family. If you owned the land you lived on and your kids were healthy and your wife was able to put a hot meal on the table at dinner time, life was good. You were living the American Dream. Maybe you could even buy a car to take the family on a beach vacation.
In recent years, not only has the concept of the American Dream changed, but so has the attitude toward achieving that dream. . . .
It looks like, for a lot of people, somewhere along the line the American Dream morphed into the American Rich and Famous Lifestyle Fantasy. They have traded the intangible stuff our forefathers’ dreams were made of for unabashed materialism. Gone are the dreams of the white picket fence, two adorable children, a cute little dog, and a station wagon. Now they dream of McMansions with Lincoln Expeditions in the four-car garage, right next to the ATVs and Jet Skis. They dream of perfect children who go to the most elite schools and wear designer clothing, and they want purebred dogs that come with pedigree papers. For a lot of Americans, that’s where the dream lies: in large-screen televisions and private schools, in built-in swimming pools and first-class plane tickets.