The Changing America Dream – Back to the Future

Key to a strong Brand America is an authentic and compelling promise. The promise of Brand America is articulated on July 4, 1776 in our Declaration of Independence.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

This promise has been viewed by the world as highly:

  • Relevant – Immigration to the USA continues to grow.
  • Competitive – 47% of the world’s immigrants choose to come to the USA.
  • Authentic – Despite the recent economic crisis, Americans continue to believe so.

Recent articles have challenged the authenticity of Brand America’s promise (aka the American Dream), and some have challenged its relevance, competitiveness and/or authenticity.

The National League of Cities Report indicates Americans remain optimistic, but many are being left behind.

Ron Paul claims the American Dream needs to be renewed. “Our challenge is to create an America that lives up to the principles and ideals of our Founding Fathers.”

Peggy Noonan claims the American Dream is being scaled down, and “There will be fewer facelifts and browlifts, less Botox, less dyed hair among both men and women.”

The NY Times has declared the American Dream dead.

I think the flaw in the logic of those who challenge Brand America’s promise is they equate “the pursuit of happiness” with the ability to achieve personal wealth.  The inference is if you are not wealthy, you cannot be happy.

Research doesn’t fully support the critic’s logic. In fact, research indicates happiness is a much more complex concept that involves pleasure (positive sensory experience), engagement (involvement with one’s family, work, social network and hobbies), and meaning (using personal strengths to serve some larger end). Research, like the study conducted by two professors at Princeton University (one a Nobel laureate), indicates the link between wealth and happiness is “greatly exaggerated and mostly an illusion”.

Is Brand America’s Promise really about having cosmetic surgery and buying a 52” flat screen television? Is that what the nation’s forefathers envisioned? Is that truly why millions of immigrants each year choose to become American citizens?

People around the world respond to Brand America’s promise because they want the opportunity of self-determination. They desire the chance to live their lives in freedom and pursue personal happiness.

I recently ran a LinkedIn survey (n=76) to get a dipstick assessment on the authenticity of Brand America’s promise. Going in, I expected the results to be negative. Instead, I found the majority of respondents believe Brand America’s promise is “somewhat to highly authentic”. There was an interesting difference in response by age. Younger responders were a bit more optimistic than older. I would hypothesize the difference may be related to the economic crisis ruining havoc on older responder’s retirement plans which would in turn compromise their perceived ability to pursue self-determination and personal happiness.

Brand America's Promise Survey Response - Total Respondents

Brand America's Promise Survey Response - Respondents by Age

An important perspective is that every generation of Americans measures Brand America’s promise through their own eyes. And, post the global economic crisis, the interpretation of Brand America’s promise is changing. And, in my opinion, it is being interpreted in a manner closer to the intent of our forefathers. It is back to the future all over again.

Northwest Mutual Insurance completed a national study entitled “The American Dream”. The conclusion of their study was that “Americans are optimistic despite the economic turmoil”, and that “The America dream has been redefined”.  They found money is a means to an end, and not the goal. Mathew Greenwald, President and Chief Executive Officer of Mathew Greenwald & Associates stated “Financial security as a catalyst to the things they really want in life – to be able to spend quality time with their families; to achieve a better work/life balance; and to be the kind of parent, spouse, and partner they aspire to be”. I think he has the right of it.

As we look forward to 2011, it will be important to recalibrate our personal internal compass to the true north of Brand America’s promise. It isn’t all about wealth accumulation. It is about leading a healthy life, being free to determine our individual path, and the opportunity to pursue the happiness that comes from family, friends and the pursuit of leaving a positive, personal mark on the lives of others.

I personally believe Brand America’s promise is relevant, competitive and authentic; I also believe it is an aspiration worth working for, and is our responsibility to do so. If you get a moment, look back at 2010 and recalibrate the meaning of Brand America’s promise in your own mind. And then, recommit to helping ensure it remains authentic in 2011 and beyond.

Please leave a comment and share your perspective. By sharing, you help everybody get a better learning experience.

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Have a wonderful new year.

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