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*Editor’s Note: Elephant Journal articles represent the personal views of the authors, and can not possibly reflect Elephant Journal as a whole. Disagree with an Op-Ed or opinion? We’re happy to share your experience here.
If you go online and search “The American Dream,” you’ll find a definition akin to the following example:
“A workaholic lawyer who seems to be living the American dream.”
This suggests that the American dream is only achievable if we work ourselves to death in a stressful, yet respectable, career—only then do we appear to others to have it all.
The American dream was once viewed as achieved success through hard work and dedication, despite one’s background or socioeconomic status. It was attainable.
The American dream is now nothing more than a rat race to the bottom.
We’ve been brainwashed to believe that working 40-hour weeks, for 50 weeks of every year, for almost half of our lives is normal; that taking a meager two weeks of vacation is enough, and receiving a simple three percent annual raise is something we should appreciate.
We’ve been fooled to believe that our happiness lies in fancier cars, bigger houses, and filling our houses with meaningless decorations and excessive clothing; that racking up credit card debt and student loans is normal because everyone else is doing it.
We’ve bought into a lie that we must go into thousands of dollars of debt to obtain an education that will allow us to continue with the previously mentioned slave-employment; that we must buy unnecessary and useless items to feed our depression and anxiety that is caused by our never-ending work-buy-repeat cycle.
Many people fear that their rights are being violated by having to wear a mask, yet they don’t realize their own self-oppression.
People are utilizing their free speech by voicing their opinions of others, yet aren’t too concerned about the suffocation they feel from their own poor decisions and high-stress lifestyles.
We live in the land of the free, yet we are chained to all its “rules.”
It’s time to decide what our dreams look like.
We need to stop worrying about societal norms.
We need to stop falling victim to the social media trap of displaying a picture-perfect life—it’s killing our sanity and stealing our joy.
We must recognize that these are all choices: working a job we hate, 60-hour weeks, purchasing a vehicle with a $700 monthly payment, living in a high-cost city, or choosing to attend an out-of-state school when we could receive the same degree at a community college.
These things are not the picture of success.
Can we sit down with ourselves and truly decide what we need to be happy?
What do we consider freedom and success?
It usually looks something like this: watching a sunrise or sunset, taking a nap, spending time with loved ones, reading a good book, enjoying a good cup of coffee, attending our child’s dance recital or sporting event, going on a hike, or playing with a pet.
Notice that these things cost little to no money—their currency is measured in time.
Time is more valuable than money.
We need to redefine the American dream to the belief that anyone can attain their own version of success. An ideal by which an equality of opportunity is available to any American.
Your American dream does not have to be the same as a million other Americans. Yours could mean breaking free from a family cycle of poverty and abuse, deciding to start your own business, or simply refusing to have your time dictated by others.
This is by no means saying that change is easy—it takes immense sacrifice.
You don’t need to quit your full-time job and travel the world for everything to work out fine. This is a reminder for all unhappy adults that their lives and happiness is their responsibility.
You don’t have to live a busy, purposeless, expensive, and stressful life.
Take inventory of your current lifestyle and evaluate how you feel about the trajectory of your future. Ask yourself:
What are your goals? Do you have a plan in place to reach them?
What changes do you need to make to feel fulfilled and secure?
What do you ultimately need to be happy?
Don’t fall into the mindset that you’re too old or have spent too long in a certain career to change now—we’ve all made costly mistakes.
We can make up excuses as to why it won’t work or isn’t worth it, but we can’t let that mindset keep us trapped for another precious day.
Let’s use the freedoms of this country to live a life we love.