Monday, April 03, 2017

It is so easy to live the American Dream ... even in Timbuktu

The American Declaration of Independence boldly proclaims that we, the people, enjoy valuable inalienable rights to "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."  Translating this ideal into everyday reality has always been a challenge.  It will become more of a challenge for one simple reason: We seem to want to reduce the wonderful ideal of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" to mere material possessions.

For centuries, philosophers and religious thinkers have advised us that happiness cannot be found in pursuing a life of fame and fortune.  If I interpret "heaven" to mean nothing but a blissful life, then that bliss simply cannot be attained with more stuff--whether that stuff is the latest gadget or the mansions that we want.  Maniacally pursuing the material possessions will lead us to the tragic end that King Midas met.

We apparently forget all those secular and religious lessons.  And then we wonder why we are unhappy!

Robert Samuelson says all those without saying all those.  Using a less philosophical framework, and more of an empirical approach, Samuelson writes:
The proper question may be: Is the American Dream killing us?

American culture emphasizes striving for and achieving economic success. In practice, realizing the American Dream is the standard of success, vague though it is. It surely includes homeownership, modest financial and job security, and a bright outlook for our children. When striving accomplishes these goals, it strengthens a sense of accomplishment and self-worth.

But when the striving falters and fails — when the American Dream becomes unattainable — it’s a judgment on our lives. By our late 40s or 50s, the reckoning is on us. It’s harder to do then what we might have done earlier. We become hostage to unrealized hopes. More Americans are now in this precarious position. Our obsession with the American Dream measures our ambition — and anger.
The American Dream has been equated to economic success, which is exactly where the problems begin.  If only the American Dream is truly understood as "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" instead!  Liberty would then guide us to value the other and the other's life.  We will strive towards whatever makes us happy in ways that do not interfere with the life and liberty of others. It is so simple.  But apparently very hard for us--we, the people--to comprehend.  The unhappy people we are, well, we live nightmares every single day!

2 comments:

Ramesh said...

The "formula" for happiness is the most complex formula on earth and to each his own. For some material wealth may be a large proportion of the formula. To others it might be a small proportion. The formula is so multidimensional that it beggars belief. And its unique to each person. And perhaps different at different points in time.

May I wish all the happiness for you in whatever form you want.

Sriram Khé said...

"The "formula" for happiness is the most complex formula on earth and to each his own" requires a person to reflect on what happiness means and to formulate one's own definition of it. This is nothing but yet another variation of the Socratic idea of examining one's life. But, perhaps most people do not bother with that. Which is unfortunate.

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