According to Wikipedia, The American Dream is a national ethos of the United States in which freedom includes a promise of the possibility of prosperity and success. In the definition of the American Dream by James Truslow Adams in 1931, “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.
Many people I speak with – conservatives and liberals – think that the American Dream in an antiquated notion which is no longer possible or even in existence. But I suppose that would depend on an individual’s version of that dream.
For many, money is the basis for living out what is supposed to be our best possible destiny. Make as much as you can, as fast as you can, any way you can seems to be the adopted frame of thought. What you can buy is proportionate to how happy you should be. The more stuff you can collect and show off is another notch on the contentment ladder.
Consistently, Denmark is found to be the “happiest” country in the world yet their average disposable income is merely $27,080 – considerably less than the average of all countries reported. This is easy to reconcile because Danes live in a post-consumerist society. They do not obsess with their hair, clothing and the meaningless items filling their shelves. Their self worth is not derived from a need to be better than their neighbor or to have more than the next guy.
Danes have a philosophy which they call ‘Jante-lov’ which basically means one person is no better than another. They do not use monetary value as a basis for worth. An artist, a garbage collector and a business person can all live in the same neighborhood and be respected equally. Because of this mindset and income equality, they do not choose career paths based on possible wealth.
A more recent survey has listed the happiest countries as follows:
Denmark, Canada, Norway, Australia, Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, Finland, Austria and Israel.
There were some common threads which seem to be aligned with my own personal ideas on what makes a person truly happy.
Live to work or work to live? Yes, many Americans can make a decent living if they work 60, 70, 80 hours a week. If they balance 3 jobs, sure they are more likely to have the ability to pay for their children’s college. But is that how we want to spend our short lives on earth? In most of the countries listed above, it is common to work far less hours, leave work in order to have dinner with their families, employers are generous with their vacation policies and there is more focus on what is really important in life. A happy employee is far more productive than a depressed employee. And keep in mind, when someone is on their death bed, they aren’t wishing they spent more time at the office. They wish they had more time with their loved ones. It should also be noted that these countries have very strict labor policies giving parents a generous amount of paid maternity AND paternity time as well as gender equality laws.
Healthy body, healthy mind. Most of the countries on the list have some kind of universal healthcare. The medical industry is not focused on making massive profit; they are in it to improve health. They have less smoking and typically eat better too. Cooking fresh, seasonal food and sitting down with family for their meals is very commonplace. They ride their bicycles instead of driving everywhere. And their fruits and veggies are more affordable than McDonalds.
Gettin’ their learn on. In Finland and other satisfied countries, a teacher is an exceptionally respected position which is highly sought after. Because of this, they have one of the highest levels of literacy in the world. Almost always, higher literacy/education equals a better quality of life.
Get out the vote. Denmark has a 90% voting record. 90%. Can you imagine? They are active in their political process and in turn they trust their government. These countries have not only more voters, but also more transparency in their government. Their politicians know they will be held accountable.
The friends and family plan. I think the most important value these countries seem to recognize is their concept of community. Spending time together, caring about others, looking out for one another and showing basic kindness is simply a part of their cultures. And this also plays into their lower crime rates. They can leave their child in a stroller without worry. They do not lock their bikes or front doors. They have a sense of mutual trust. Simply stated, they care more about their relationships than they do their things.
A friend in Sweden worries about coming back to the states. As much as she misses her friends and family, being a citizen there has many benefits. “I think we, in Sweden, are happier just because there is less worry financially, especially when it comes to health care and child care. We have time for ourselves and family. We don’t have to work for someone all day long just to make ends meet because of generous vacations and maternity leaves and a normal 40 hour work week at a pay which allows you to enjoy life.”
I can hear some of you already, “If you don’t like it here, then move.” But I think I would rather fight to make our society better for everyone instead of jumping ship. Besides, moving in this housing market? Forget about it.
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