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. Years ago, even in times of financial hardship, the attainment of the dream was brought about by hard work and, in times of financial crisis, by making do with what you had. Talk to anyone who has been through the Great Depression and they will mostly tell you the same thing my grandmother said about those times: “It is what it is.” Making do became part of the dream, not a sign of failure to realize the dream.
Now, with the economy in a downturn and the panicky words “recession” and “depression” becoming part of daily conversation, people are talking once again about “making do.” However, their idea of making do is quite different than my grandmother’s. Trading in the Hummer for a Mazda, taking two vacations instead of three, eating at less expensive restaurants, yet still dining out — it looks like, for a lot of people, somewhere along the line the American Dream morphed into the American Rich and Famous Lifestyle Fantasy.