Once upon a time I woke up and realized the American Dream was… not quite what I thought it was? An illusion? Unattainable? What is the American Dream anyway? American Family Insurance performed a survey on their site to determine if the American Dream is still alive. When I took the survey I felt it was most definitely still alive and I defined it as:
That sounds about right to me. The dream we all have (or so I thought) is to be able to do what makes us happy. To be free from tyrannical governments dictating religion or career choices. To be free to live the life we want rather than the one someone else forces upon. America was founded on the idea of freedom and the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. For centuries, America was the land of opportunity and a place where people could go to escape the difficulties they faced in their home countries. It was a place where people were free to be themselves.
But then I looked at the results of the American Family survey. The top three definitions of the American Dream today are:
- having money
- owning a nice car
- owning your own business
Wow. That scares me. When asked what it was that kept people from living their dream, the top answers were work, parenting, too lazy, too busy, chores, worry, financial reasons, too old, love, and shopping. The most important things needed to be able to live their dream were money in the bank, family, and a fancy job title. At least they’ve got the family right.
I’m starting to wonder about this American Dream. For centuries the dream was one of personal fulfillment and happiness, now it appears as though it’s morphed into something unrecognizable. The white picket fence used to stand for being happy with your family, but now it appears to be something else. It’s having a big fancy house, an expensive car, a prestigious job, and bucketloads of money in the bank.
Will all that money in the bank and fancy job title truly make us happy? Will reaching “success” by today’s definition lead to personal fulfillment?
I think back to the ranch hand I met near Drewsey, Oregon a few years ago. “This is the life,” he exclaimed when we stumbled into his tiny cabin in the middle of eastern Oregon. I had knocked on his door to beg for water. He swept his arm around to show off his humble abode. “I wouldn’t give this up for anything.”
I looked around and thought, “It’s the life alright. A tumbledown shack in the middle of dusty nowhere.” If you’ve ever traveled the desolate, wide open spaces of the eastern Oregon desert you’ll know exactly what I mean.
“My wife and I have been here five years now. Wouldn’t trade it for all the gold in Midas’ chest,” he explained. “I’m convinced Drewsey is heaven on Earth. I used to be a marketing exec for a manufacturing plant in Portland, but somewhere along the way my wife and I decided the long hours and stress just wasn’t worth it.
“People thought we were nuts — selling our 40-acre plot of land and huge house in the city and moving out here to be ranch hands. But we’re convinced this is God’s country, pure and simple. We’re living our dream — and that’s a good place to be.”
I’m convinced that ranch hand was living the American Dream. He had figured out that what made him happy wasn’t the fancy job title or piles of money. It was the wide open spaces of the godforsaken desert of Eastern Oregon.
I totally understand where he’s coming from. There’s a peacefulness and serenity about the desert that one doesn’t find in busier places. There is beauty in the vastness of it all, and it didn’t take me long to understand the people who love it. I can say with certainty that God’s country is a good place to be.