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.
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. According 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.