The American Dream Today:
Transforming Your Life in Modern America
What is the American Dream today?
That depends on which American you ask.
And that, in a nutshell, is what the American Dream exemplifies: freedom, flexibility, the opportunity to build one's own vision of the future and pursue it, unfettered.
Let's take a closer look at what the American Dream has entailed in the past, how it has changed, and how you can empower yourself to achieve it!
Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness
From today's perspective, it can be hard to grasp exactly how revolutionary this notion was. This is particularly true for the "pursuit of happiness" part. It's not that no society had ever encouraged happiness or pleasure. But the social and political environment that birthed the American Dream was not one dedicated to such pursuits.
It was the Founding Fathers, therefore, who introduced the idea that individual liberty and satisfaction could be tied to economic stability and political harmony. Every man was equal, they posited, and every man equally free to pursue his own destiny. The idea was that this freedom would contribute to a prosperous country.
Of course, back then "every man" meant "every white man of age who owned property." It would be some time before people of color, women, and non-property owners were granted those same freedoms. And even today, America struggles with the practical application of equality -- even as we espouse it as a value.
The 20th Century: White Picket Fences and Nuclear Families
In the early 20th century, the two World Wars first shifted, then solidified our conception of the American Dream. Women began to make strides toward being equal breadwinners and equal partners as they shed their corsets and long skirts, then took to the factory lines as workers.
After WWII, however, the notion of the nuclear family took root. Suburbs sprang up to accommodate the many babies being born as GIs returned home. Prosperity ruled much of the nation, and progress of all types was prioritized.
The new American Dream was now homeownership, along with a family that consisted of Dad, Mom, and an average of 2.5 children. Dad was expected to bring home the bacon while Mom kept house and raised the kids.
It was against this comfortable backdrop that marginalized groups began to push for that long-promised equality. The Civil Rights Movement gained speed, as did the nation's nascent LGBTQ+ community.
A New Millennium and the Generation of Disruption
The Millennials: has there ever been a more maligned generation? Those born between 1981 and 1996, who began to come of age as the 2000s dawned, are radically changing our nation and the American Dream today. Some say for better, others -- mostly writers of magazine articles -- for the worse.
Millennials, they claim, are killing the diamond business, chain restaurants, department stores, and cable TV. Most significantly of all, Millennials are sounding the death knell of the housing industry. In 1975, said experts, it took only nine years to save up for a down payment on a house; now it takes more like 14.
In their defense, Millennials claim that the Boomers and Gen-Xers who gave birth to them tanked the economy. This made it impossible for them to pursue the same American Dream as their parents -- or at least to succeed in that pursuit. And plenty of Boomers and Gen-Xers are finding themselves in similarly dire financial straights, working past retirement age or contemplating a future without a pension.
However, maybe it's time to consider that Americans' scrappy, can-do spirit is undergoing yet another renaissance. Millennials aren't just drowning their sorrows in craft beer or wasting their money on avocado toast because they can't buy houses. In the quintessential tradition of our nation, they are reimagining the American Dream. It's one where homeownership, while nice, isn't the be-all and end-all of American life.
So What Is the American Dream Today?
If the American Dream is no longer a ranch-style home with a big backyard, and a couple of kids and a dog to scamper around that yard, then what is it?
One thing that generations of all ages are insisting on is that they have the right to define their own dream.
For some, it means living a life that isn't defined by the money they make, the size of their residence, or the type of car they drive. They might be rejecting the middle-class values that their families long espoused.
For others, the dream is to be better off than their parents, maybe to be the first in their family to pursue higher education. These Americans could take pride in buying their first starter home.
Still, other Americans want to pursue happiness by discovering a more rewarding life, no matter what their income. To that end, they are exploring their spirituality, their relationship with nature. Or they are helping to connect humans -- their fellow Americans as well as people of all nationalities -- in myriad meaningful ways.
Maybe your path isn't yet well-defined. It's OK if you don't know what your own American Dream is right now. You can find inspiration from hearing others' visions for their futures; check out American Snippets to learn how your neighbors are redefining the dream.
A Few Final Thoughts
In essence, the American Dream isn't fixed. It is fluid, flexible, and highly personal. It means the freedom to follow in your parents' footsteps or to reject the values of previous generations. There's no need to conform to the courses taken by your ancestors. You can -- and should -- find your own path to fulfillment and a life well-lived.
Are you excited about the possibilities presented by the American dream today? Ready to get started on the path to your own truth? Check out the many resources we offer, including articles, personality tests, videos, and much more!
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