The American Dream. While it is a quintessentially American aspiration, each individual person has a unique vision of just what it is. For some, the dream may be a chance to build a successful business. For others, it means owning a home of their own. And for more than may want to admit it, the American Dream is the guaranteed opportunity to "shop 'til they drop." As alluring as all of these visions are, however, the truth is that they are only outcomes of the American Dream, and not the dream itself. The American Dream is actually a state of mind.
Most Americans know that the American Dream, as outlined by the Founding Fathers, is the accordance of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. However, this phrase is actually the source of years of misperception, to the point that many Americans no longer really understand what the American Dream is. What is the error that's been the cause of so much trouble? Blame the Founding Fathers' capitalization choices. They used initial caps on Life, Liberty and Happiness, when what they really meant to enshrine was a commitment to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of happiness. In other words, what the American Dream promises is not a right to happiness, but a right to Achieve happiness on one's own.
What does that mean for those in the workforce, or who are seeking employment?
For years, social scientists have been trying to figure out just what happiness is, and more importantly where it comes from. What they've found is that humans have the capacity not only to experience happiness, but also to experience joy as well. And contrary to popular thinking, those two states are surprisingly different.
Joy is an emotional state. It is typically derived from our relationships with family and friends. Happiness, on the other hand, is a cognitive state. It occurs when people are tested by meaningful challenges that unlock natural potential, or talent. These challenges can occur anywhere, and are extremely common in the workplace. In other words, the best shot at Achieving happiness occurs when people put themselves in a position to excel at what they love to do.
This is the real essence of the American Dream. It's a personal commitment, a determination people have to devote their Life and exercise their Liberty to the accomplishment of two tasks:
- Discovering their natural talent, or what they love to do (and do best).
- Working only where they can use that talent to achieve satisfying goals.
The outcome of those tasks will be unique to each individual person, but the tasks themselves are the same for everyone. At heart, they represent peoples' right to the Pursuit of happiness.
These are also the key to a successful job search and a rewarding career. Whether workers are in transition or currently employed, focusing on these two tasks will enable and empower them to control their own destinies, with the goal of developing an important and fulfilling career. This may be the right of Americans, but it is also their responsibility. Because only when today's unemployed or underemployed worker decides to take that first step, can they decide to set off on their own personal Pursuit of happiness.
Why should American workers bother? Because as wonderful as it is to derive joy from relationships, they deserve more. The typical employee spends at least one-third of their life at work, and that experience should offer more than frustration, anxiety and despair. It should – and can – be a source of profound fulfillment. Or what the founding fathers called the Pursuit of Happiness.