The American Dream is a national ethos of the United States in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success. In the definition of theAmerican Dream by James Truslow Adams in 1931, “life should be better andricher and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to abilityor achievement” regardless of social class or circumstances of birth. The idea of the American Dream is rooted in the United States Declaration ofIndependence which proclaims that “all men are created equal” andthat they are “endowed by their Creator with certain inalienableRights” including “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
The term “American Dream” is used in anumber of ways, but essentially the American Dream is an idea which suggeststhat all people can succeed through hard work, and that all people have thepotential to live happy, successful lives. Many people have expanded upon orrefined the definition of the American Dream, and this concept has also beensubject to a fair amount of criticism. Many people believe that the structureof American society belies the idealistic goal of the American Dream, pointingto examples of inequality rooted in class, race, and ethnic origin whichsuggest that the American Dream is not attainable for all.
The idea of an American Dream is older thanthe United States,dating back to the 1600s, when people began to come up with all sorts of hopesand aspirations for the new and largely unexplored continent. Many of thesedreams focused on owning land and establishing prosperous businesses whichwould theoretically generate happiness, and some people also incorporatedideals of religious freedom into their American Dreams. During the GreatDepression, several people wrote about an American Dream, codifying the conceptand entrenching it in American society.
For people who believe in the Americandream, anything is attainable through hard work. The concept plays on the ideathat American is a classless society, although it is obviously not, as anyhonest examination of the United States will reveal. The idealistic vision ofthe American Dream also assumes that people are not discriminated against onthe basis of race, religion, gender, and national origin, another thing whichis unfortunately not true in the United States.
Critics of the American dream also pointout that many versions of the dream equate prosperity with happiness, and thathappiness may not always be that simple. These critics suggest that theAmerican Dream may always remain tantalizingly out of reach for some Americans,making it more like a cruel joke than a genuine dream.
People with a more skeptical view of theAmerican Dream sometimes say that the American Dream represents the possibilityof living better than your parents did, and a desire among parents for theirchildren to lead happy lives. This is especially true in the immigrantcommunity, as many immigrants have come from extremely difficult circumstances.
Some one who manages to achieve his or herversion of the American Dream may be said to be “living the dream,” andeveryone has a unique interpretation of what the American Dream might be.Fundamentally, the American Dream is about hope and the potential for change,and one could argue that people who enact change in some way, even a small way,are living the dream.