The American Dream

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The NYTimes published the results of a poll it recently ran, asking people how they felt about the "American Dream" in these bad times. The answers were paradoxical.

72 percent of the respondents expressed confidence that it was still possible to wake up to find the American Dream of becoming rich realized, but only 44 percent thought that they were already there. A similar poll taken four years ago found that only 31 percent thought they had made it. But the future outlook was down.

Compared [to an identical] poll taken four years ago, fewer people now say they are better off than their parents were at their age or that their children will be better off than they are. . . So even though their economic outlook is worse, more people are saying they have either achieved the dream or expect to do so.

The explanation for these seemingly conflicting results was provided by a sociologist, Barry Glassner, professor of sociology at the University of Southern California, who said:

“You want to hold on to your dream even more when times are hard,” he said. “And if you want to hold on to it, then you better define it differently.”

The original definition is said to have arisen during the Depression.

In his book, “The Epic of America,” the historian James Truslow Adams wrote, “It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain the fullest stature of which they are innately capable.”

The people polled expressed a variety of non-materialistic visions, many centered around freedom and opportunity. This is good news for sustainability. The more people shift to a qualitative vision coincident with flourishing, the easier it will be to instill a new value system.

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