Curiosity got the better of me the other day. I was wondering when the concept of The American Dream began. So down that Google rabbit hole I went, in search of the origins of that oft-repeated phrase.
Surprisingly, the first time that phrase appeared in print was in some newspaper article penned in 1931, an interesting time, indeed, the depths of the Great Depression and all. I didn’t read the article, just a synopsis of it, but it was a carrot-dangling of sorts, hold onto the American Dream, work hard, and success will be yours, a white-picket fence, a car in the garage, a home for life.
We’ve all grown up hearing about it, have we not? Work hard, save up, strive and persevere, and good times await you. The wording may not have been the same, but that was the promise back in the 1800’s, and 1900’s, that a man, or woman, determined and goal-oriented, had a chance to make it in this wonderful nation called the United States. In fact, Henry Ford himself went so far as to say, that the only reason for failure in this majestic country was if a person were of weak character, unsuited for the hard work required to succeed financially in this country.
The American Dream on a personal level
My parents believed it, for sure. They came to Washington State, from Iowa, shortly after WW2, in search of The Dream. Within five years they bought a house, and I have no doubt my Dad’s plan was to work hard for thirty years, pay off that mortgage, and live out The Dream into retirement. Unfortunately, death derailed that plan, for my father, three days before his fiftieth birthday, fourteen years short of realizing The Dream.
Truthfully, I can’t think of a single relative of mine who did not chase The Dream, including yours truly. I bought into it, hook, line, and sinker, and played the game with the best of them. But all the while there was an uneasy feeling within me, a subconscious knowing, if you will, that all was not well in my quest. You all know the feeling. I know you do. Perhaps not about this particular topic but, at some point in your life, you’ve experienced that prickly-skin feeling that something is not quite right with the situation you were in.
A random question, or perhaps not that random: Who was the idiot (excuse my derisive language) who first thought that working forty hours per week, for thirty or forty years, during the prime of your life, was a great idea?
Here’s my problem with the whole American Dream thing
Well, truthfully, I have many problems with it, probably the largest of which is the fact that it is pure fantasy for tens-of-millions of Americans. But let’s skip over the discussion about Economics and move on to my personal musings.
Again, you will have to excuse my language, but working one’s ass off, for three or four decades, for a Nirvana which may not happen, seems like folly to me. May not happen? If you could ask my dad about that may not happen thing, his answer would be crystal clear. Death pursues us all, and none of us is aware of when the man-with-a-scythe will come calling. Not to mention the fact that the economic system is stacked against you, and the worth/value of your retirement is reliant upon the wheelers and dealers in the corporate world, and the cigar-smoking white men in Congress.
But there’s a philosophical problem, as well.
It’s all based on a false assumption
And that assumption is this: That happiness is based upon the acquisition of that white-picket fence, two-car garage, and stable job, a blatantly false assumption if there ever was one.
I’ve had jobs where I was paid six-figures. I’ve had jobs where I was paid barely enough to buy food and pay rent. I’ve purchased twelve homes. I’ve lived in a pickup truck. I’ve rented. I’ve lived in a studio apartment of 300 square feet, and I’ve lived in 3,000 square foot homes on five acres.
And none of that had anything to do with my happiness! And therein lies the whole point of this rambling writing.
We need to stop right here for a disclaimer: I have nothing against those who chase after the American Dream. If you love your life, in a rambler, on property, with possessions galore, I say bravo to you. If suburbia fills you with warms and fuzzies, I stand and applaud you. But, and this is a mighty big butt, if you are chasing your tail, in pursuit of a false dream which most likely will never happen; if you are working countless hours simply to stay one step ahead of the debt-collectors; I say to you, there has got to be a better way, and that is one large reason why we, my wife and I, are off on our wild adventure, starting in 2023.
Changing the narrative
It all begins with the knowledge that happiness can be had, at very little cost, just about anywhere. Happiness is an inside job, to quote an old mentor of mine, long gone now.
I don’t need a brick-and-mortar home to be happy. I don’t need property. I have good health, and I am loved, and hitting the road is not going to change that at all.
So, why not make my own American Dream? Why not change the narrative?
The wonders begin March, 2023! Stay tuned!
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Bill & Bev