Is the American Dream really a nightmare?

7 comments

Uh oh.

The fun and games are almost over. My year on the road is officially coming to a close.

This year has given me a lot of time to contemplate the kind of life I want to live and I delved into many living situations to find out which best suits me.

I’ve surfed couches, beds, blow-up mattresses and tents. I’ve lived in cities, jungles and just about everywhere in between.

As far as what’s best, no place is “better” than any other. But I think there are certain ways of living that reflect more mainstream America ideals, such as life in the suburbs.

I just came from the land of aloha and my heart and mind is open to tolerating all walks of life, all professions and all sorts of different people. But one thing I can’t stand is the mindless ideal of the “American Dream.”

Talking with my friend Monica from Colombia, an au pair in Virginia, she was kind enough to give me an honest assessment of her time in America, especially in comparison to life in Colombia.

She expressed that many things in America are plastic, both literally and figuratively: that our happiness is fabricated. Our beds are bigger, our portions are bigger, our opportunities endless. Yet, somehow people are still unfulfilled. Why is that?

Is it because are arrogant enough to believe that we are “owed” the creature comforts of Wi-fi, satellite TV, Starbucks lattes made with skim milk (nevermind what farm that milk came from, or even bothering to learn your barista’s name…)? With freedom should come a certain amount of self-education and responsibility.

What do I mean by that?

How many of you know how to farm? I learned the basics, and I mean the bare essentials, of farming only 2 years ago when I started a small vegetable and herb garden in my Philadelphia urban dwelling. I lived in the city, but everyday for breakfast I managed to collect almost all of my ingredients from my garden: chives, peppers, tomatoes, cilantro. I worked in restaurants where everything was supplied from Lancaster County, PA and everything was sourced locally and home made. I became aware of where my dairy and meat came from. I learned to appreciate what it means to grow your own food instead of relying on a grocery store all the time to provide it.

I learned sustainable and organic farming in Hawaii. I helped harvest and collect pineapple, papaya, mint, mamaki, spinach, holy basil, avocado, Hawaiian bird peppers, eggs, bananas, macadamia nuts, and a myriad of other items. I know growing patterns and basic mulching techniques. I know how to weed and supplement my diet off the land. Is there anything more satisfying than a meal made from things plucked off of your own trees? Hardly.

Bounty, Hawaiian Style

Living this lifestyle helped me appreciate food as precious sustenance rather than a commodity owed to me by grocery stores and nameless/faceless farmers.

Another thing I see on the mainland is mindless consumption.

People complain about how much money they DON’T have, but continuously frequent drive thrus for iced coffees, can’t bear to quit their mani/pedi habits and buy thread after expensive thread at Victoria’s Secret. They run their AC on days when windows would be just fine. They eat out twice or more a week instead of cooking their own food. They spend money getting drunk as sin on weekends in bars where prices are notoriously high. They mindlessly consume television advertisements, sit by idly with eyes glazed watching commercial after commerical about whitening their already impeccable smile (thanks to their expensive health insurance and religious whitening regime). They throw away perfectly recyclable materials. They throw garbage in the streets. They litter.

Is this the American Dream? It sounds like a nightmare. 

Are you guilty of these things? I was at one time, only because I didn’t know any better. I spent my money on expensive restaurant meals and cigarettes. I believe I deserved a good job because I was educated, American. I scoffed at bruised produce in the grocery store. I littered. I’m not proud of these things. But travel changed me for the better.

I’m now a conscious consumer. I farm or at least try to grow some of my own things. I NEVER litter and I actively recycle. I turn off the water when washing dishes, using this Earth’s precious resource sparingly and wisely. I sign petitions again developing natural farmlands and protecting our oceans. I volunteered at an eco-hostel for the better part of a year.

Love yourself enough to love your environment

I urge everyone to look at their lives and decide, honestly, whether or not they are living the best version of themselves. Take responsibility for your life rather than expecting someone else to do it for you.

Instead of taking advantage of your liberties, earn your liberties.  WORK FOR the respect that so many people around the world give Americans. Self-start. Farm. Know what the hell you’re doing and why. Pick up a book, turn off the television and learn to do something you’d ordinarily pay for. There’s enormous satisfaction in self-awareness that money just can’t buy.

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7 comments on “Is the American Dream really a nightmare?”

  1. I understand what your post is trying to convey, but I think you missed the point. The American Dream was always about the opportunity for upward mobility and the fact that your destiny in life isn’t just handed to you. The fact that you personally have the opportunity to travel the world and ”opt out” of consumerism is, I think, just your expression of the American Dream. To marginalize another person’s actualization of the American Dream is to marginalize the very concept that allowed you to find your happiness.

    I’m not saying Americans shouldn’t be more consious of their decisions and the effect of those decisions; I too feel that mindless consumption is a HUGE problem in the US. I’m just saying that the post came across as a kind of snobbish ”one-size-fits-all” for happiness and fulfillment, and I’m fairly certain that wasn’t your intent.

    And I recognize that all of this is just my opinion.

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  2. I appreciate your comments Dan, and that’s why I wrote this post…to get a discussion started and to get people thinking.

    I don’t think I’m marginalizing anyone’s actualization of the American Dream, and this post is CERTAINLY not a personal attack against anyone. I realize that I’m privileged enough to travel the world and gain other perspectives, although I cannot deny that the reason I was able to do that was through CHOICE. Anyone can do it with enough time, motivation, research and priority.

    I spent a LOT of money, time and resources to live the lifestyle I do. I spent almost my entire life’s savings this year to see what sort of other ways of life are out there and possible. I by no means “opted out” of consumerism, rather, I spent my money investing in myself and buying life-enriching experiences that weren’t just “handed” to me like a latte through the drive thru.

    I’m sorry if I offended anybody whose personal lifestyle choices were “attacked,” and I really don’t think there’s anything wrong with an iced coffee once and a while or treating yourself to a pedicure every so often. I just think it’s time people woke up and started voting with their money rather than throwing it out the window on STUFF.

    If you are not guilty of mindless consumerism and truly believe your money is well spent and you live a happy, fulfilling life (you only get one!), then this post is not directed at you.

    For those that don’t, perhaps this is the rude little wake up call people need to snap the hell out of it.

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  3. Thanks for sharing, Jill. I couldn’t agree more. I think for many, at least those who have traveled abroad, the definition of the “American dream” has changed. It’s no longer about getting married young, having 2.5 kids and living in a house surrounded by a white picket fence. U.S. citizens continue to complain about the economy and fight amongst themselves, but so many don’t realize how fortunate they (we) really are. America has become a nation of greed and privilege…not to all, but to many.

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    1. We really are fortunate! I just returned from the third world and when I returned back to US soil, I literally felt warm and fuzzy inside. We have it so good and don’t even realize it sometimes!

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  4. I love this post! It’s so enlightening to see people come around to self-sustainability and how fulfilling it is to support yourself in ways we never realized. My friend has 5 plants in his backyard (in the city): basil, thyme, sage, banana peppers and tomatoes. I went out to pick some for our dinner and I was amazed at how much there was, and how easy it is to grow these plants no matter where you live!

    And I agree with Dan, the term “American Dream”, I think, was more geared toward the idea that you can do whatever you want in life, if you work for it. Here in America, we have options so many other people, such as in third world countries, can only dream of. That being said, I believe you’re seeing so many people around us taking life in America for granted. It IS disheartening because we’ve worked for what we have and now you’ve seen what life is like on the other side of the world. We are so lucky to be able to have animal shelters, air conditioning, affordable schools, and opportunities for jobs that don’t entail standing on street corners.

    Sadly, a lot of people just don’t want to know. What they don’t know can’t hurt them, and they’re comfortable in their lives of simplicity and material possessions. There’s nothing we can do for people who don’t want to know about the reality of life. Forever will they be envious of our carefree, love filled lives.. even though every time they tell us they wish they could do what we do, and we tell them YOU CAN!!!, they just.. still don’t want to change.

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    1. Right on sister! I’m glad you agree! I felt like coming back to the US was like a warm hug after being in the Third World. While it was nice to see how other people live and a genuinely unique opportunity, I will never take for granted the freedoms we have as Americans again. Now more than ever it’s time to wake up and take life and our destinies into our own hands!

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