In the Beginning… was the Dream

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Did you ever wonder how The American Dream turned into such a nightmare? Let’s start with the fact that The American Dream is a dream, so it always carried that risk. And that’s the one thing it has successfully delivered — illusion. Unfortunately, it’s not a very pleasant one these days.

I enumerate the sordid condition of the dream in my recent book, Awakening from the American Dream, but before we start to wail about how terrible this is, let’s again remember that it’s just a dream. Comfortable as our beds might be, we probably don’t mourn the loss of our dreams when we wake up. We’re glad to wake up, because a new day lies before us.

Of course, what exactly lies before us can temper that enthusiasm! What are we waking up to in 2014? That’s different for all of us and we each have our personal challenges but, clearly, the world we share has gone… what’s the best word for it? How about insane?

I read recently that a failing fighter jet program is costing tax payers more money than what it would cost to feed lunch to all 31 million of our nation’s school children … for 24 years! For the same dollars we could house every single homeless person in America… in a $600,000 home! But here’s what’s really crazy: millions of Americans become aware of nutty situations like this and do exactly nothing. Change channels, pass the nachos, ho hum. That’s the problem with apathy… who cares?

So, how did all this get started? In the book, I refer to the origins of the American Dream. Quoting: “James Truslow Adams is credited with coining the term, The American Dream, in his 1931 book, The Epic of America. Quoting from that text:  "… life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement regardless of social class or circumstances of birth.”  The United States Declaration of Independence proclaims that "all men are created equal … endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights" including "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Adams went on to talk about the dream of an America where citizens were “unrepressed by social orders which had developed for the benefit of classes.” Today, 400 Americans have a net worth of more than half of our entire population. That couldn’t have happened without the aid of a “social order” that rewards the rich and punishes the poor. For instance, during a recent radio interview, muckracking journalist Matt Tiabbi spoke about his new book The Divide where he questions why rich bankers in Morgan Stanley who laundered millions of dollars in drug money went unpunished (the company paid a fine), while individual drug users go to jail. Our social order determines that the more money you have the less likely you are to be imprisoned.

But the most interesting segment in that quote is about “the pursuit of happiness.” As I point out in many ways throughout the book, if you are chasing something, anything, you don’t already have it. So, the fundamental tenet of the American Dream must be original unhappiness. Unless we do something, we remain unhappy, that’s the belief. Unless our pursuit is successful, we are unhappy.

Is this true? What do you think? Ask a baby. Of course, they don’t talk yet so just look in her eyes. A little food, sleep, pooping and clean up, and she’s smiling. Why? Babies possess nothing. They have achieved nothing. They are not famous. They have no skills. They are completely dependent on others for their survival. But, they are fundamentally happy. So, what’s their secret? Could it be as simple as this? They are not chasing anything!

They also don’t know any better. No one told them they should be dissatisfied with their lives. So, it’s enough. Interestingly, most of us have watched toddlers play with – not just their toys, but the wrapping the toys came in! It doesn't take much to amuse them. But just a few years later and the Christmas lists are bloated with demands for expensive gifts. What happened? Babies grew up, learning that it was good to get things. That’s how the parents live, why shouldn’t they bring up their children to believe and live the same way?

If the American Dream is about original dissatisfaction, then it’s fair to say that being awake must be about original satisfaction. That’s the starting point. Imagine remembering this at the crack of dawn. You start waking up and, instead of beginning to worry about the tasks of the day or your empty bank account, you just bask in happiness… imagine that! You lay there, day dreaming, not particularly impressed with thoughts about what you have to do today but just enjoying the moments. You might even pretend you’re a baby for a minute or two with no responsibilities!

Of course, we could also do something similar right now. There’s nothing stopping you from slowing down as you read, noticing your breathing, bringing your attention fully to the words you are reading, pausing between a word for a moment… then continuing on with a conscious sense of gratitude. What for? You’re breathing. You’re alive. You’re alive in 2014 in a crazy world where all of us must be mighty heroes to take on the challenges of survival.

In the beginning … was the Dream. Maybe it’s time for a new beginning! How about now?

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