Has the American Dream Become a Nightmare?

by Joe Plemon on May 13, 2011

A reader recently shared these thoughts with me, “My husband and I are from the ‘great depression era’, which always meant if at all possible, don’t go in debt. For the past 10 to 15 years we have watched people as they lived ‘the American Dream’. To us it was watching them as they lived far above their paycheck. Then reality hit and, by the thousands, have lost everything."

This letter challenged me to ask, “What exactly is the American dream?" My ensuing research reveals that this definition has changed over the years — and not for the better.

The original American Dream

America’s Founding Fathers gave us their meaning of the American Dream in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”…

Note that wealth and materialism were totally absent from this definition. In fact, many of our founders gave up their wealth to pursue this dream … a dream of a land where the people were free to pursue happiness. This very pursuit, I believe, constitutes the dream. It is an ongoing endeavor, for the moment anyone quits pursuing happiness, he also quits dreaming.

The Dream Today

Now…fast forward to today and ask yourself how you would define the American Dream. In fact, ask anyone you know how they would define the American Dream. My guess is that it had something to do with owning your own home. Assuming I am right, read on.

The Dream Becomes a Nightmare

Many, in their zeal to achieve this dream, purchased too much home. Then, as the real estate bubble burst, they found themselves irreparably attached to their house, making the ongoing payments as long as they were able or facing the prospect of foreclosure if a hiccup disrupted their income stream. The dream, for many, has become a nightmare.

But, as horrible as this financial nightmare is, I believe the change of the dream has produced an insidious nightmare which is much more prevalent. We have substituted brick and mortar for the dreams of pursuing our passions, discovering our gifts and using those gifts to make this world a better place. In losing the original dream we have compromised the zest for life that America was once known for. We have also compromised our honor.

Don’t misunderstand me — we own our home, but doing so does not fulfill my dreams. Like the founders, my dream is to discover and live out my purpose for being here on earth. I pray that you too will adapt the original American Dream. Anything less is second best.

That sounds like a nightmare to me.

As I researched this topic, I came across the following blog posts that are well worth the read.

Readers: How do you define the American Dream? Has this post changed your thinking in any way? If so, how?

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