It’s the paradox of the American Dream. The American way of life is in desperate need of an overhaul. We live in a paradox where we have far greater opportunity to embrace the idea ingredients to a healthy and balanced life, yet we are the world’s leader in cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. Depression and anxiety riddle many in middle class America. We work harder and take fewer vacations than any other industrialized nation. In fact, it is not simply that we aren’t taking vacations; we are working longer hours per week and more weeks per a year. The utilization of technology allows the employee to work from almost any location and at any hour of the day. Don’t be mistaken, American workers are more productive than their European counterparts, but this type of productivity benefits a flawed economic model, not the employee.
What do we do with our extra income that we earn from being more productive? We live like kings. Maybe not kings in the way that most people think, but we hit the high notes. We buy bigger fancier houses with nice green lawns that we pay other people to help us maintain since we work long hours and don’t always have time to keep up with the mowing. We drive newer cars with more safety features like autonomous braking for when were too busy daydreaming about being rock stars to pay attention to the road. We have subscriptions to mail-order grocery services that send us fresh ingredients with companion recipes so we can prepare “home cooked” meals that we will later post pictures of to various social media outlets either with the hashtag “nailed it” when it goes terribly wrong or the companies name depending on how things turn out. After all, we only show what we think people will enjoy seeing. Editing our lives to seem picturesque has become a national pass-time.
Working harder and longer to buy a device that tells us how much activity we’re not getting is not only counterintuitive, it’s contributing to the problem. Essentially, we work harder to be more disconnected from the reality that we live. Very few of us are truly living the dream that we think we’re investing in.
America buys a lie. We buy the lie every time we pick up a green package with the word “natural” on it or shop for “healthy” convenience. We are sold the notion of a phone upgrade, because now we can have wireless earbuds or a slightly larger screen. We engage the idea that a fragrance will bring us seductive romance, that we will be esteemed by our peers for providing the office with a certain beverage or meal. Though the ads themselves are ridiculous in content, they still work.
During the golden age of advertising Americans were convinced that the car they had purchased last year was now out of style. That they should feed their children pure sugar in order to provide them with energy to grow. That smoking the number one doctor recommended cigarette would make them thinner, healthier, and more appealing to the opposite sex. We now know that buying a car every year is a terrible financial decision, sugar cause inflammation and disease, and cigarettes can kill you. Convenience and luxury have become paths to the poor house and the grave.
If you have become disillusioned by the beast of lies that the American Dream has evolved into, give yourself permission to seek a more authentic path. Instead of embracing anxiety over material goods, pursue only things that will add to your happiness. For example, I recently purchased a mandoline to speed up the process of slicing produce. I’ve thought about buying one for a long time, but procrastinated because I typically don’t like kitchen utensils that only have one function. I finally found one that I thought was worth the money to try it out and I was bitterly disappointed. In retrospect, I should have stuck with my rule-of-thumb for kitchen tools. It must serve more than one purpose. I had seen so many different mandolins advertised and I was sold on the notion that it would simplify my life and save time in the kitchen. It did not do anything I had hoped for and it was pain to clean as well as dangerous for my children to handle. It did not add to my happiness, but I bought the lie that it would better my life. In truth, a good kitchen knife adds to my happiness. It can be used for cutting many types of food not just produce, it’s easy to clean and store, and my children recognize it and know that knives can cut them so, they exercise caution.
The contrasting idea to marketing is authenticity. Authentic is defined in part as: True to one’s own personality, spirit, or character. This is the standard that all things marketed must measure up to in order for us to add to our happiness in life. If something leaves us feeling like we want for it, we should probably return to our internal conversation and talk about what it is we are really wanting. Is this something that appeals to our senses, insecurities, or external expectations? Answer these questions and see where the conversation goes. More often than not, I find that feeling want for something is rooted in an expectation that I did not impose on myself. I also find that I am most free when I embrace the peculiarities that make me stand apart from the crowd. I find that I like being authentic with myself and that my sphere of influence is increased by being comfortable with being different. At the root of it, this is what marketing seeks to destroy. It seeks to create a uniform society of followers that do not possess the notion that they can question or even desire to be an individual.
The path to authenticity is overgrown and obstructed by way of advertising and marketing in the United States. This can make it challenging to sort through what truly matters to each of us. But, that challenge is no reason to shy away from pursuing personal changes that will ultimately bring you freedom. Your freedom from debt and disease are things that cannot be bought or acquired. These are only obtained by tenacious pursuit of truth.