Lauren Sandler proposes the question in Psychology Today : “Why are we not happy even if we have everything the American Dream prescribed?” She cites surveys that are revealing that we, “have grown continuously more depressed over the last half-century.”
Sandler quotes behavioral researchers who say that, “much of our discontent seems linked to the unrealistic expectations of the American Dream.” We are expecting too much from the bigger house on the better street and the familiar accoutrements of a family on its way up.” And the accoutrements that we seek are becoming an increasingly elusive summit.
Sandler also suggests that we are expecting too much of our partners: “Now we expect our marriage partner to be our best friend and a great lover, a great parent and a soul mate, really-good-looking and have a great sense of humor. We have these expectations for marriage we can’t possibly fulfill.”
I agree that such expectations are partially at fault for this increased lack of happiness, but one greater and more foundational thing to consider is whether anyone caught in this “American Nightmare” has stopped for one moment to ask what it is that they really value. Is it landing the job, catching the spouse, buying the house, having the kids that they really value? Or might it be wanting to do something meaningful with this one precious life they have? Something that makes a difference in the world. Something we can come to the end of our lives with and be able to say “I made a difference.”
In a Live Conscious Retreat we are encouraged to really investigate what it is we value and then live our lives accordingly. Happiness, we propose, is living a life where we renew ourselves by living according to those values, where we leave healthy emotional footprints behind us that we feel good about, and where we are making an effort to leave the world in better shape than the world we were birthed into. I guess that can be a tall order too, but likely more doable than trying to attain happiness with the proverbial and ever elusive “American Dream.” Perhaps having a healthy partner, home, and children will come as a result of having lived according to our deepest values.
Thanks to Lauren Sandler for suggesting we begin to reassess our lives and expectations.