Recently, through my bidding, my book club met and talked about a book called “Bait and Switch, Chasing the American Dream”. The book was slightly dated being published in 2005 but the topic current, a female journalist wrote anecdotally about being an unemployed white-collar worker and using the various employment services: life coaches, resume writers, networking groups, image consultants etc., to gain employment.
She was completely unsuccessful in her experiment. Her results and the unemployed white-collar workers she interviewed indicated, as we all know, that North America is in a terrible state of affairs and the outlook for all is not very promising. In our discussion of this book one of the members posed a very poignant question: “What is the American dream for our children?”
I guess we first have to define what the “American Dream” is for us; by us I mean anyone who is in their 40s and older. The American dream goes something like this: a big house with a few healthy kids, maybe a cat and dog, a nice car (or two), a couple (both working – only if they want) in jobs they like making a lot of money so that they can buy the things they want for their family and so they can take the vacations they want, entertain as they choose, and simply live a ‘happy’ life filled with all the things they want.
It usually meant we would definitely make more money than our fathers and have bigger houses, better cars and fatter bank accounts than our parents as well. We were more focused on establishing independence and making it on our own.
The days of our children making more money than we do or owning bigger houses is definitely a thing of the past. Quite often now there is no choice, two incomes are needed to make ends meet and at the end of the day I know my children are working longer hours for much less money. So, the dream almost must change to keep up with the times.
During our discussion of the book another member mentioned that we must watch the documentary “The Minimalists”. She said it is very interesting and this led to a further discussion on how our children see their futures. I watched this documentary and another called “Chasing Capitalism”, which is about the crisis of the diminishing middle class and their political clout in the United States. It opened my eyes to some things that my children have been telling me for a while now.
My generation and perhaps the ones that followed just after mindlessly participated in the consumerism because that is what we all believed was progress and were led to believe by advertising and political powers would make us happy. Our grandfathers were more tied to the land and an agricultural based economy. With each passing year progress was deemed the ability to move away from that, to become part of the industrial fabric of America and then part of the growing technological America.
As we all know however the economy took a number of hits and so did the American middle-class families. We are now seeing firsthand how consumerism can change the economic face of a nation in places like China and other parts of SE Asia. These countries just start to develop a middle class only to watch it fall because the average individuals buying power is lost.
Our children do not want to be laid waste at the side of the road. They want a political say in their community, city, state and country. I believe that the new American dream is about finding meaning in your life and by reducing consumerism so that we are more environmentally aware but also more collective as a society in doing what is best for all as well as for the individual.
The current generations want quality not quantity in all aspects of their lives. We did too but they are wise to the rhetoric that sucked us in. Many people are uncluttering their lives and finding time for things that are more important to them by getting rid of all the material things that absorb time needlessly. For the Minimalists, this came from a place of feeling like they as individuals had met their definitions of success and found that although they seemed to have a great deal of material trappings they fundamentally weren’t happy.
They learned from people who were happy how to be that way, gave it a try and found that for them it was the recipe they needed to lead a fulfilled life. They don’t advocate that everyone disavows themselves of all or most of their material goods but rather these two men say they have a recipe that works for them and they want to share it with others so that others can find the happiness they have found.
Many people are uncluttering their lives and finding time for things that are more important to them by getting rid of all the material things that absorb time needlessly.
It is not a prescription but a recipe so it can be altered to suit your needs. I remember when my kids were young how we always wanted to keep everything simple because it just made life so much easier. We have moved so many times in my 35 years of marriage and I know the times when my husband and I feel the greatest sense of freedom and inner peace/joy is when everything is packed away and we only have the bare minimum to live with. Obviously, this is a sign for us.
I know as well as our kids grow, leave home, and build their own families we look around and say we have way too much stuff. Many couples want to downsize their home after retirement but first they need to downsize all their possessions.
Maybe this new generation will be slightly smarter and be much more calculating in their purchases to begin with. Hopefully their wisdom of finding more meaning and quality in life will extend to important relationships and community creating lasting environments that give them fulfilment.