Chasing Money and Getting Lost
Once there was a dream. A dream of raising our children with more than we had, a dream of houses on cul-de-sacs, a dream of consumption: The American Dream. Anyone could be anyone; society preached of upward social mobility. For decades, we believed in this dream. We moved our families to the suburbs, worked long hours at work and expected that we could create our own idealized life.
But did this make us any happier?
It appears not.
We have now reached a time in this country where our traditional American dream is broken, and economic signs seem to indicate that there may not be a way of resurrecting it, at least not anytime soon. We could take this as a sign that our country is falling apart, but I think that it could provide a wonderful opportunity for us all. Rather than focusing on consuming more than our parents and living in a bigger house, why not focus on being happier versions of ourselves? Why not ask ourselves what really makes us happy? If we focus less on changing our socioeconomic group, maybe we could really all be a bit happier. Most of us have somewhere around 80 or so years to live, why not make the most of our time here?
I realize that this may seem counterintuitive. Doesn't an increasing standard of living make us feel more satisfied? Perhaps it could, but it often comes with sacrifices that we tend to overlook. I want to explore happiness in our society.
Seriously, there are several reasons that the American Dream is worth giving up.
What Makes Us Unhappy
There are a variety of things that could contribute to happiness in a persons life. Surprisingly, money is less of a factor than many people think. Once we reach a certain middling level of income, money does little to increase our happiness. And sometimes chasing money can actually contribute to our unhappiness. At some point, the cons of more money often outweigh the pros.
One of the biggest factors influencing well being is commute time. People with longer commutes are more likely to be unhappy. The American Dream which has encouraged suburban home building has increased commutes for many americans over time.
Commutes Over Time
Commuting and Happiness
Taken together, these graphs show exactly that. Over time commutes have increased for Americans despite the facts that commuting further tends to reduce satisfaction.
Stress and Loneliness
When people are extremely stressed out, they are less likely to find time to nurture themselves. Whether due to full schedules or lack of energy, this also tends to lead to lack of social activity. People who spend less time socializing and more time stressing tend to be less happy.
This chart shows that as social time increases, so does feelings of happiness. People who work long hours in pursuit of larger and larger paychecks inevitably are left with less time to spend with others. The stress from extra work and the isolation from other people is certainly not a positive addition to one's life.
So there you have it. Perhaps the American Dream is dead. Perhaps many Americans are dealing with stagnating wages and lifestyles and perhaps the homes that we raise our children in will be smaller than those we ourselves grew up in.
But so what? Having more possessions cannot make us happier and I have pointed out a few ways that the dream that our society subscribed to actually may have reduced our collective well being. I urge you to reject the American Dream. Manage the money that you do have well, but do not let money become your biggest motivation in life.
Search instead for happiness and your world may become brighter even if your wallet becomes lighter.