What is The American Dream and is it Still Alive?

What is the American dream

We’ve all heard that ‘saying’, “The American dream”. I remember hearing it when I was young. Now many decades later I wonder what it means today and how it has changed.

I suspect that the notion of the American dream brings differing thoughts from various people. But just what is it? And what is it that’s unique about the American part?

As I write this I’m not going to research and websearch the topic. Instead I’m simply going to refer to my own opinion.

I believe that the American dream as originally presented generally relates to how an American has unique opportunities to succeed. To achieve betterment in life, to live well, and the opportunity to be happy or at least comfortable within the American ‘way of life’.

If someone wanted to push hard, they had a shot at further success, even great success. The America then had few obstacles standing in the way of someone who wanted to give it a go.

The opportunity to truly achieve the American dream was largely hinged upon freedom.

Back in the day it was marketed as having the house with a white picket fence, a family within, and a comfortable life.

America is still free, right? Or… maybe not quite as ‘free’?

Most of us who are able to think and reason and who have been around for awhile, know that we are not as free as we once were. Thus dampening the chance for realizing the American dream to an extent.

The number of new laws and regulations over these many decades are astounding. There are more .gov agencies and bureaucracies than ever before. ‘Red tape’ is wrapped around nearly everything we do and it can be quite difficult at times to cut through it.

There are mega corporations the size of which would have been unthinkable many decades ago. Now they control our own govt… and squash any competition that may come there way.

We have become less free to do the things that went without question during a previous era. We are less free to get things done. You might say it can be like Like walking in mud under some circumstances.

Surely the opportunity still exists. However you might say that the system is rigged against us to an extent.

But is there still an American dream?

If so, then what is it?


The American Dream – Different for Everyone

Like I said, it’s a bit different for everyone. I believe that most people look at it in a very material way. Having lots of ‘stuff’. Living in the biggest house with the newest cars and toys. Keeping up with the Joneses. Going on fancy vacations. Wearing the latest of fashion. Showing off the newest model iPhone. That’s the American dream for many.

The thing is, it’s so easy when you can saddle yourself with debt. This was not the case years ago. Debt was bad back then. Now it’s portrayed as good. Livin it up… Party on.

I believe that many decades ago we were not all that materialistic compared to today. The American dream must have been somewhat different and was achieved by many middle class Americans who lived within their means and were seemingly happy with what they had.

My own outlook is as follows:

I believe that we do in America have better opportunities, even today, than many or most other places on earth which are very heavily regulated, socialist, or even communist. Most people likely live within tight constraints in those places compared to the United States.

That said, it has certainly become more difficult to build a business than it once was (again, regulations). But if you are flexible and adaptable, you might (might) be able to work around the obstacles. I have found there are fairly great differences from state to state and even at the county level in this regard (important!). You can’t get away from federal regs though…

Regarding my own self, I believe that I have achieved my own American dream. Although it’s not one of glitz, glamour, or bling. I have lived much of my later adult life below my means, and years ago have managed to pay off all debt. I live modestly and in a mountainous location that I enjoy ‘off the beaten path’ which is “free-er” than many other locations. Most people would go nuts here without the services of suburbia but we like the peace and quiet, and the mindset of small town livin. It’s different for everyone…

What are your thoughts on this subject?


  1. Godd article Ken, especially on this day after Thanksgiving wich was for myself a day of reflection to some degree.
    So true that the American dream means different things to different people.
    For myself i believe that its still there, it just depends on how much regulation, taxation, documentation and general BS you are willing to tolerate.
    Personally im over it. Most of you know i used to use the forum name of Kulafarmer, was me as i was a farmer, huge huge potential, but then government regulation comes along, everything from local water supply nit picking and scrutinizing ag users to the idiot federal government with their Food Safety Modernization Act. It took an occupation that could be so wholesome and rewarding and turned it into a quagmire of required certifications, fees, paperwork and ridiculous compliance requirements.
    Im not doing it anymore, i dont care what alphabet soup agency says what, they can all stuff it, and on top of that i dont care what my community eats because my community was nowhere to be found and in many cases cheering for more regulation.
    In fact, i am so disillusioned and disgruntled with this BS government and system that i am doing everything in my power to get away from it. I just dont care anymore what any of them want or need. Again, they can ALL STUFF IT WHERE THE LIGHT DONT SHINE!
    American dream? Yea sure its there, just be sure and read the small print and pay the fee as you pass through the security checkpoint

  2. I’ve tried to live a fairly simple life and have never felt much of a need for the finer things in life. I could afford to be higher in my social status but that would mean debt and I abhor that. We have somehow managed to arrive in our golden years with a fair amount of the gold. Frugality, careful investments and living a bit below our means has added up. I guess my dream has been achieved about as much as it reasonably could have.

    I would like to downsize somewhat and my DW would like a retirement condo in some place with warm winter and hot summers. Personally I don’t find that very appealing.

    I’ve been prepping on and off since the late 70s and am surprised that the PTB have managed to hold it together so long. I truly have expected total failure before now. I guess my current dream is to make it to my ending in relative peace and comfort.

    We went out to the movies last night and saw a number of homeless. I do admit to feeling some guilt when I compare my place in life to theirs. I know that many of them have made poor choices over and over. I know that not all of them have and for those I truly feel sorry for. Loss of employment, mental health issues, etc. have caused many of them to be where they are. One of my more enlightened moments occurred while dealing with a severely schizophrenic patient. My co-worker reminded me that schizophrenia can happen to anyone and absolutely nobody ever dreamed to themselves, “I wish I was a schizophrenic.” For so many of those people the SHTF time has already occurred and they are living it.

    I find that as I age my abilities to get things done are on the decline. I’m thinking that one thing I could do is build a tiny home on my back acre and let a homeless veteran live in it in exchange for a few hours a day of help. I think it would be a win win situation.

    1. Let me add that a couple of months ago Antique Collector turned me on to the Organic Prepper blog and although it doesn’t match Ken’s it is one of the more decent ones. I just visited it again and read a recent thread on surviving a financial downturn. My thoughts were wow, she’s writing about me!

  3. American dream? I’m surprised we can still have one with all the regs. etc. I think the American dream for a lot of people now-a-days is having “instant gratification”, living in a New York moment, and juggling 3 part times jobs. I myself still like the old dream. Having a good job, having a decent home to live in and have it paid for, and having a lovely wife and children, and of course a pet or two. I’m sure there are many variations to that, but you get the point. Also, today, if you don’t have one of the latest phones or pads, you don’t have nothing. Guess I don’t have nothing. I still use a flip phone.

    1. BigBadCat
      Those flip phones still work, as I tell my family. It lets me call them–lets me send them a text message(by the way I detest). Why in the world would I spend more $$$ just to be fancy, and beside my CAVE PHONE works just fine, Thank you very much!

      My sister offered me her phone she has now, so she can buy another one. NO mine still works.

      1. Antique Collector-sometimes you can get a ‘smart’ phone for a pretty reasonable cost. I pay $50 a month for my phone and phone service-that includes unlimited calling, texting, high speed internet etc. I’m bundled with a few family members and it works well for us (we’re no longer under contract but it’s such a good deal that we’ve stuck with it). We use my cell phone as our ‘home’ phone-cut out the landline a while back.

        1. What service? My contract is up and once again ATT sent me an update for my carrier settings and now the phone goes dead in half a day and im barely on it,,

        2. Nailbanger,
          Sounds like your phone needs a battery. Just had that trouble with my flip phone. on plans your normal use will be what you need to go by… getting off a contract phone is a good thing, for those of us who have low use it is just someething to zap our money from our pockets to the phne companys… I have the cheapest … plan availaable… they don’t sell it any more…
          I looked at options…for just service, tocheck for options for mine a couple of months ago…. phone and text ability,( but not included- which i use in emergency only and i tell others do not send me a text message… they take a long time to come thru on my phone because of dead zones) .. the plan I have…ATT (go phone )has a no monthly service contract. If you use phone very little and want emergency phone..They try to sell the higher value plans where you sign up for monthly payment for straight 30 days service.
          One option is to put more than 30$ on it as pay by minute plan…as long as you do not allow time to expire it will build /30$ has 3 months.expiration….the other option from them, is to put `100$ on it and it is good for one year. thru pay by minute plan… my emergency phone costs me about 15-20 per month, most months. about 1/3 of that is from emoergency text messages sending and recieving unsolicited ones… I often do not get to it in time to answer , I don’t have voice mail by design..so I return all calls from my house phone(straighttalk home 16$ month)

      2. Yep, my flip phone (cost $20) works just fine and I have unneeded no limit calling for $21 a month.

        1. My dumb phone is about 15 years old. I have a pay by the minute plan because we use it maybe once or twice a year. We still have a landline which works when cell phones don’t.

          I have nothing, but at the same time I have everything. :)

        2. all the monthly added taxes here were adding 10-15$ a month to our house phone. My straight talk home(cellular) won’t work when the electricity or towers go out, but they don’t pad their pockets with extra fees either… There were 25$ a month added to my parents phone in all theexra surcharges… oneof them was to pay for government phones for the “low income” I complained my parents were low income and they told me we could not remove those charges so i said” watch me”… and cancelled/changed services.

        3. I also have a TracFone—-buy a 3 month contract(isn’t called that, but it is what it is…just semantics, you buy a new card when old expires!)
          I receive 120 minutes for $20–don’t lose minutes when card time expires.
          Not ideal for those with business, friends, and family–of which I have neither.

        4. So, my phone service is about 6.66 a month—15 cents a minute which is high, but my landline long distance was 15 cents also-so better deal with TracFone.
          Like I said, not great for those with friends, family, business.

  4. I’m living my dream. Lovely wife and family. We live in the middle of nowhere but still within a half hour drive of everything we need. We live in a 150+ year old farmhouse/homestead that I remodeled myself, so it’s just the way I want it. We have a great rural community and church. Prepared for the worse and praying for the best.

  5. Einstein said, ” What is more real than a dream?”. That said, I believe that the original American Dream still exists, but for most it has morphed almost to nightmare proportions. I think the changes of the instant information age have caught people in its Web. People used to be happy what they worked for and gained. However in recent times media has blasted us with the vision of massive consumerism. Part of that ploy, to get us to buy, is to convince us we are somehow ‘lacking’ and ‘unhappy’ without the ‘things of modern life’. Most people fall for this and are caught in the dream/nightmare of believing they need more to be happy. I think peppers as a group don’t buy into that. I read the comments here on Ken’s site, and most people have realistic dreams, a farm or cabin in a rural area. Simple sustenance. The basics.
    Being completely content and happy with what they have or can make or grow themselves. We have achieved the true American Dream of being self reliant, and happy in that fact. Don’t let the modern world tell you otherwise!

  6. Since I’m Canadian, I’m not too terribly sure that I could answer this the same way. Canada is pretty similar to the United States in many regards but I do think that our “situation” is a bit worse than yours.

    Anyways, the “American Dream” in my opinion is the belief in meritocracy (especially in a freer nation), if you work hard, do well, have various skill sets it will end up rewarding you. It is this simple. If one person is incredibly ambitious and pours every ounce of their being into doing something, I believe that they can achieve it–and while this process can be made easier in many freer nations, I do believe it also exists in places with little opportunity, although the risk associated with furthering yourself increases. Even though I make minimum wage at the moment, I know that if I continue to work hard, I will earn raises and promotions–at the same time I can learn new skills and go into different work opportunities in which I will earn more. Such is the plan!

  7. Some people might think that I have achieved the American Dream because today I live in a modest house, on property that I theoretically own which has been in my family for over a hundred years, and I am debt free and am able to afford a lot of things without going into debt. The truth is I really haven’t totally achieved what I perceive to be the American Dream because I have been thwarted at every turn throughout my life by the very same elected and unelected bureaucrats who like to loosely throw around that term “The American Dream” to keep themselves in office. The very same buffoons who try so hard to maintain their image as intelligent and caring people while they tax and regulate our lives out of existence.

    One can easily imagine the American Dream to be a life where we can freely conduct our personal and business affairs with minimal to no government intervention or restrictions. A life where we are free to implement constructive ideas without being beaten, tased, incarcerated or shot by government agents. A life where free markets and ideas reign where we are able to keep the fruits of our labor and determine our own economic health instead of where our lives are being totally controlled by unelected bureaucrats, bankers and corporations whose only allegiance is to themselves. A life where we can grow our own vegetables and food, make our own whiskey, and freely trade these commodities with our friends, neighbors and for that matter strangers without being taxed to death, regulated out of existence or thrown into prison for the rest of our lives.

    I think the American Dream did exist at one time prior to the American Revolution but it died at the end of the Whiskey Rebellion in the early 1790’s, before the ink was dry on the Bill of Rights, during Washington’s first term when he was manipulated by Alexander Hamilton into sending a military contingent of nearly 13,000 soldiers led by none other than Alexander Hamilton to crush free Americans who refused to pay an excise tax on their distilled spirits.

    Imagine that… the first representative of international bankers in the new nation leading a military contingent against free US citizens who had recently won their independence from a tyrannical government, to crush the life out of “The American Dream”. Since then, the American Dream has slowly deteriorated to where we are today… to where it is only a dream and nothing more.

    And yes, I did have a nice Thanksgiving and I do have a lot to be thankful for but I still think The American Dream died many many years ago.

  8. I never believed in the American Dream. I’ve always been skeptical that it was/is nothing but a ploy to get the maximum productivity out of workers, get them to take on a mortgage for a home and land they truly never actually own free and clear of taxes, along with regulations, so that the top 1% can flourish on our blood and sweat. I have a modest home. When it’s paid off I still have to pay thousands a year on taxes. County, local, school, plus I have to follow regulations and codes and can’t even build on “my land,” unless I buy a permit. As I age if I can’t keep my grass cut I’ll be fined because of local ordinances. Regulations and taxes destroyed any American Dream except for the uber wealthy…..

  9. I thought about this subject while I was out mowing my lawn this afternoon (81 degrees in the shade), and I still have the belief that I’ve had for years, and that is that the term “The American Dream” was just a slogan that big business and politicians spewed forth to get money or votes. I’ve never paid much attention to it and still don’t see any reason to change. Life is exciting, and we’re always trying to get into something, out of something, away from something, or over something in our individual pursuits of how we think to best live our lives. I’d think that about everyone world-wide does the same thing.

    CD in Oklahoma

  10. “The American Dream”

    My first thoughts; are that we all build our own dream of what we “believe” life should and will be. Sure we all get pressured into thinking one must strive more and more, but my question is, why? Why are we not happy/content with what we have? If you cannot see what it is you now have, will more make you happier? Is that Iphone-10 really worth $1000?

    Second thought; Instant gratification;
    Movies; to live someone else moment in time and escape your own?
    Alcohols/Drugs; to numb yourself to thinking you have no problems?
    TV; to again escape your life?
    Iphone-10; Really?
    Debt; makes one even more miserable that doing without?
    Stuff; how much friggen stuff does one really need?

    My 3rd thought of The American Dream;
    People that work for a living should do so knowing fully well you are NOT working for yourself or your family, you are ‘allowed’ to keep some of what you earn. Take that $100 you think you earned, after all the looters TAKE what they will, you end up with approximately $15.oo of goods in your hands. Hell 40% right off the top just to the IRS, than think about the Insurances, Obummer Care, the Gas Tax, Food Tax, Property Tax ….. The list is endless. It’s called Socialism.

    Final thought; At one time I honestly believed there was a true American Dream, the ‘Dream’ has died with the morphing of the Country to thinking that the only way to exist, to enjoy, to ‘be alive’, is to sell your soul for a pittance of bread and be thankful for what ‘they’ allow you.

    It’s a beautiful world out there; unfortunately most never open their eyes to see.

      1. Thank you Shepherdess

        I try to speak on subjects like this with a caring heart, maybe in 50 years from now someone will read this Blog and will understand what happened to this Country/World.

        Ken does a heck of a job teaching, if people will care to learn.

        1. How much stuff do we need? Well said and truly I have to much stuff. More fishing tackle than I can use and lose in the time I have left on this plane. I’ve got at least 7 different types of hand .saws and hardy ever use any of them as I’m usually using an electric one. I’ve got my everyday wrenches both SAE and metric (no whitworth) and I’ve got my Sunday go to meeting wrenches. I’ve got tarps, tents, sleeping bags, axes, shovels, hoes, rakes and on and on and on. Just too much stuff.

        2. I have tons of tools, n stuff, but can hopefully make a living with that stuff, so far so good

  11. The American dream is what you make of your life! Sometimes you dream, sometimes you have nightmares. If you dwell on the nightmares you fail. Focus on your dreams and no matter what you will win in the end!!

    Adapt and Overcome.

  12. My relatives came here in the 1860’s and around 1900 for the American Dream. Freedom to try to make their lives and the lives of their future generations better than they could have imagined in Ireland or Eastern Europe. They struggled and worked hard and made their dreams come true. I think that those future generations that they worked so hard for, took everything for granted and lost the true meaning of the American dream.
    But I believe that people have finally started to rise up to bring back the American Dream. They have seen so much of it disappear over their lives and have finally had enough. If we can keep it up we might get it back, otherwise…….

  13. Ever see that ad on tv that shows a man inventing a new pillow in his basement? The ad goes on to show in detail how he first got the idea, then tried several times to come up with a new design, than started to market it, expand his factory… Then there is a chart showing his sales growing by leaps and bounds.

    That is the best representation that I’ve seen explaining the American Dream,.

  14. I believe the “American Dream” is an idealistic set of goals that differs for each person, and that personal perspective plays a big role. I thank God I was not born in Africa or the Middle East, or some other place where the only dream is to survive another day. There are reasons why so many people still want to come to the USA.

    I can still choose my career, where I live, who I marry, how many kids to have (or not), how I worship (or not) and so on. People in other parts of the world can only dream of this kind of freedom, of these kinds of choices.

    That said, our freedoms are being eroded daily, often in small ways that add up over time. The proverbial frog in the pot. As Ken and many of you point out, there are constant assaults on our rights, and our gov for and of the people seems to be working more against us than for us – or maybe I should say they seem to be working more for themselves and big money special interests.

    I could go on, but I think most here would agree that our freedoms are in real trouble and that too many people are far too complacent about it.

  15. “The American Dream”
    Can it still be achieved? Yes, but to what extent and what cost?
    What stands in the way and crashes the dream from being achieved?
    Government greed on All levels…even down to your own township. Corporate greed. And individual greed.
    I could give countless examples of own personal experience…..but I believe you all know what I’m just sayin. 😀

  16. I believe the American Dream still exists. Things change, things always change. Yes, things today are different from what they were in earlier days ( I’m 56) and are different From how things were when I grew up. The Dream still exists for those willing to work for it. Read Brian Buffini’s ‘The Emegrint’s Edge’, or listen to the various podcasts [Enteleadeship for one] he is featured in. The American Dream is that the future will be better than today, and that future and Dream still exists.

  17. I believe in the American Dream though I have observed the definition morph or change into something I can barely recognize for some people within this country.

    I have to preface my observations with the admission that I live off the tax dollars brought in by both State and Federal Government. I have been a career civil servant with some years of experience in private sector thrown in to boot.

    My present jobs to deal with those people that are dispossessed of their life and belongings because they are incarcerated. They were sent here by the courts to determine their sanity. Some make it out, others are kept in my facility for years. I have been doing this job for a long time and I see these people as life’s victims. Many of them never really had a chance starting in their upbringing.

    Their stories make grateful for what I have at home and it gives me a sense of purpose for why I have to show up for work each day. Each individual has their dream. I am not going to try to stand between a person and their dreams unless they wish for suicide or homicide.

    1. Interesting…thank you for sharing your point of view CaliRefugee….

  18. Is the “American Dream” still alive? I’d say barely. Historically the “Dream” that was always taught to me that it was: work hard at a good job, get paid a fair wage, own a decent house, have a few kids, and life was affordable. Now with housing costs here in CA well over the $350k mark for a decent house in a decent neighborhood, the jobs don’t pay what it costs for housing. Then there’s taxes, and HOA’s, and school bills, and now water metering, etc etc. Way too much red tape to open a business. My wife and I work two full time jobs in respectable careers (LE and Teach) and have side gigs. She sells oils and I do woodwork and small restorations for people. I also never turn down side work. We barely squeak by. Saving money doesn’t pay, look at the banks interest rates, I remember my grandparents had CD’s paying 10%… now maybe a tenth of a percent. The struggle to leave is a hard one and we have been at it for about a year now…hopefully we can leave CA soon.

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