A Contemplation on the American Dream

The American Dream. What exactly is this dream anyway? I search up the definition online, hoping for an accurate, precise meaning, and yet, all I see is a bunch of different definitions pop up. Sure, maybe it is defined in the law in the sense that, “all men are created equal”, and have the right to “liberty, life, and the pursuit of happiness”, but what does it mean individually? Happiness is solely up to an individual; the only one who knows what kind of happiness they want is the individual themselves. That is what I believe. But if the American Dream is defined by the constraints of an ever changing government, how could anyone be happy if their happiness was defined by someone else?

To be honest, I never really liked the American Dream. Maybe it’s because I had forced opinions thrown at me in school; that it was all ideals and false hope, and being wealthy meant that an individual was happy. I am a person who finds value in abstract virtues like trust and love, and therefore, material goods never really appealed to me. Maybe it’s because I was taught to be extremely grateful for what I had. Simply by being born in a prosperous country like Canada, one received free healthcare, education, and exposure to all the knowledge in the world. However, to obtain the American Dream, one had to compete with all the other immigrants fighting for a better life than the one they had before.

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The belief that hard work would eventually lead to financial, economic, social, and political success, is integral in the sense of achievement Americans feel. However, if material goods and upward social mobility is what Americans define as happiness, could it truly be considered happiness? In truth, everyone’s way of achieving happiness is different. Being financially secure might even be someone’s way of finding closure. However, security is merely a factor for one’s certainty; it is not a true definition of happiness.

In Maslow’s pyramid of needs (which is a psychological theory to explain an individual’s motivations), security and safety is merely the second tier for one to obtain happiness, or self-fulfillment. Image result for maslow pyramid of needsAccording to this hierarchy, one needs to discover self-actualization to achieve self-fulfillment, or rather happiness itself. Very rarely do people reach the top of this hierarchy; few can realize the full potential within themselves and learn to love life.

Maybe this is why in the novels, Death of a Salesman, and The Great Gatsby, neither Gatsby or Willy Loman obtain true happiness because their pursuit of the American Dream was not of their own, but rather what society dictated what happiness should be. Willy, a man who could never have enough money, nor Gatsby who acquired his wealth through crime, obtained the true happiness they sought.  Willy believed that being financially secure meant that he obtained his version of the American Dream. However, that created a false sense of self-fulfillment and thus made it into a cycle of constant uncertainty. This led to his repetitive hallucinations because his existence was validated only through his past success. Gatsby, believing that wealth could help him gain Daisy’s love, used bootlegging as a means to pursue what he thought was happiness.

People go through so much trouble to find true happiness, even though a person could be content simply by appreciating the small things in life. People become absorbed or obsessed with the way society describes happiness, and lose sight of what it means to be happy individually. I think that is the largest factor on why people struggle with determining what happiness is; they’re too caught up in what others think, and how society views them, that the happiness they seek is clouded with opinions that are not their own. As the saying goes, “money can’t buy happiness.”

If the American Dream is what the pursuit of happiness is, then therefore, there is no real path that dictates what an individual should follow. Since everyone is different, happiness is determined by the individual themselves, not society. Even Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is simply his own way to determine what happiness was to himself. The pyramid is just a means of which to explain, in general, what happiness was.


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5 thoughts on “A Contemplation on the American Dream

  1. Dear Kelley,

    Firstly, thank you so much for providing a different perspective and insight into our much debated topic of the American Dream. I found it extremely interesting that you tied in Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs, which provided a more psychological analysis rather than the literary and figurative analysis I’m so used to. Your claim that happiness can only be reached after “self-actualization” was believable and justified. I loved how you actually included a picture of the hierarchy so that readers could understand where you were coming from and believe what you were saying.

    In terms of improvement, I’d like to see more depth in your ideas of what happiness is, and how one can attain it. You stated that you find happiness in “abstract virtues like trust and love”, but I would challenge you by arguing that these virtues are more simple than abstract. Though they may be less materialistic than the ideals portrayed in the typical “American Dream”, they are still extremely prevalent in almost every literary work and in our society. I’d love to know what other concepts you feel contribute to this seemingly unattainable notion of happiness, and at what lengths individuals need to go to attain it.

    This piece definitely made me think about the American Dream in a different way. Thank you so much for your insight and contribution, I can’t wait to read more of your work.

    Love Always,

    1. Dearest Alysha,

      Thanks so much for taking the time to read my work, I really appreciate it!

      As for your perspective on “abstract virtues like trust and love”, I meant to say abstract in the sense that virtues are not materialistic things and therefore have more value because they are intangible (if that makes sense). I guess I interpreted the word differently than you, but I welcome any advice that you gave!

      Once again, thanks for reading,

  2. Dear Kelley,

    Thank you, first of all, for devoting a post to the definition of the American Dream. We have discussed it so much in class, but we often lose sight of the importance of defining the terms we use. While your thoughts on the American Dream are, as you’ve so strongly said, personal to you, your words at least give us insight into an issue that has been debated by both Americans and non-Americans alike. Perhaps your efforts are just another way of dispelling the confusion that so plagues this American ideal of what it means to be happy.

    In regards to improvement, I’d maybe like to see a more in-depth exploration of the American Dream, especially in the context of the literature we’ve studied in class. Just as Alysha said earlier, it may improve your piece if you also explored other notions regarding why the American Dream is seen as a false hope (even by the Canadian curriculum). However, your piece seems to be more of a general overview of the American Dream and if you think that going in-depth with it defeats the purpose of your blog, then please disregard my suggestions! After all, your piece still runs quite smoothly without it!

    All in all, I really appreciate what you’ve written about the American Dream. I especially like how you employed the use of psychology to help explain human desire, regardless of nationality or citizenship. Though not an American citizen myself, I certainly see myself as an American at heart – in the sense that in the grand scheme of things, we share the same hopes, dreams, and fears common to all of humanity (and I must confess a budding interest in American history, but I digress). As such, it often saddens me to think that so many people regard the American Dream as an unattainable fantasy; in fact, it might be the human inclination to pessimism that deters America from achieving the happiness they have long yearned for. Reality is only reality because it is what we have made it out to be, no?

    Regardless of the answer, your piece remains brilliantly written! I hope that thanks to the efforts of writers like you, society may once again reclaim the hope that drove humanity to leave the oppression in the Old World and start another life in the New, all for the pursuit of their happiness. This forces me to wonder if this contemporary world of ours has lost the fervour and the dreams that motivated our forefathers to create a better world, one that was built on hard work and the undying hope for new opportunities. Today, we call it fantasy; back then, they called it aspiration. With their example, may we one day place hope in our dreams once again! But, those are just my two-cents.

    Ever yours,

    1. Dearest Jieo,

      Thank you, first of all, for writing an essay of a comment and taking the time to read my post. I appreciate the advice that you gave me so that I can better my work. If it was a complete analysis on the American Dream, perhaps I should’ve connected to the literature more. However, since this is just a contemplation, and a general overview, as you have said, a more in-depth exploration would improve my post, but I think it might not be as necessary.

      But I am truly grateful for whatever advice people give, and I thank you once again for reading it.

      Best wishes,

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