Giving thanks for the real American Dream

I’ve been thinking a lot about gratitude lately. It’s something that seems to get lost in the accelerating whirl of turmoil we find ourselves in these days. Yet, it is the very thing we all need. And not just the quick thought of thanks for the things we have at our fingertips. But a gratitude for something more profound that we all share.

The American Dream

Let’s work back through the things we are really thankful for. Keep going. A little further.

If we stay with it, we’ll eventually get to that thing that fills us with incredible hope. The very thing that is at the heart of the American Dream.

Before we go any further, we need to be clear on what the American Dream means. I’ve heard people claim that it is everything from a right to homeownership to a right to a good job to a right to a car! It is none of these things. People have manipulated the phrase over the years (and especially at election time) to serve their own agenda. All of it distracts us from the more profound thought that it embodies.

Taking back the true meaning

The actual phrase came from James Truslow Adams in his 1931 book The Epic of America. He described the American Dream as:

“...that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. 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 to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position."

The problem has been that people read 'better and richer and fuller' and they stop there. Adams makes the point that it is not about ‘motor cars and high wages’. Rather it is about the 'opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.’

There is no inalienable right to have stuff. I love that Adams put the responsibility squarely on each of our shoulders. The American Dream is the freedom for each of us to make the most of ourselves.

A powerful reason for giving thanks

Among all the confusion and controversy we live with, it is a comforting feeling that, at the very core, we have this right to an incredible opportunity. I’m not saying that there aren’t problems or that there are some that have a more difficult path. All I’m saying is that the right exists. And we can make of it what we will - depending upon the amount of passion and work we want to put into it.

I don’t know about you, but every time I return to this thought I discover new hope and excitement for what lies ahead. Because the opportunity is there. And I can make it mine, and make it whatever I can dream.

I don’t have the right to a job. I have something much more profound. And for that, I find myself giving thanks.