What’s the Goal of the American Dream?

The goal of the American Dream was:

  • Marriage.
  • Home.
  • Family.

It was assumed.  Why?  History proves that it works in all situations and on in levels of experience — personal, societal, and economic.

However, over the last fifty or so years, the industrial/bureaucratic/financial system has made this goal economically and financially toxic.  Worse, the system has substituted other goals for the American Dream:

  • Money,
  • stuff/sex, or
  • fame/status.

These new goals don’t work.  People that believe they do are either very young/naive or have a psychological pathology that should be excised as soon as practicable.

So, what is/are the goals that work in the modern context?  I’d like to think the original goals are still valid, albeit with a little tweak or two.

PS:  The toxin that kills marriages more than other is economic distress.

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Discussion — 17 Responses

  • CaptainJeff October 31, 2013 on 6:27 pm

    I disagree that the combined goals of marriage, home, and family toxic. While I can completely see that sometimes obtaining these can be difficult, it’s still very possible and very worthwhile.

    Marriage reflects a deep commitment to putting the union of two people ahead of one’s individual goals. This is important for both the individuals and the family itself. This may not be the one man / one woman characteristic that have prevailed for a long time, but it’s necessary.

    A home is necessary. This may not be the house in the suburbs that was the ideal for a while, but it’s necessary. There is a huge benefit to having roots and being a part of a community. Especially when that community is dedicated to the welfare of all of its members.

    Family is vital. Children are the future and its up to each and every one of us to make sure they are prepared for it. That starts with the parents (see above, Marriage). And it extends to the extended family (see right now, Family). And it extends to the neighbors, community, etc (see above, Home).

    How these things manifest themselves may change, but they are not toxic. Perhaps the traditional definition, and a strict, ideological adherence to it, may be, not not these components.

    • John Robb CaptainJeff October 31, 2013 on 7:25 pm


      Agree with you on this. I did NOT say that having a family is toxic.

      I actually wrote that the US has made a raising a family “economically toxic” . The data is pretty clear about that. You would be much better off financially if you didn’t have kids.


    • Corey CaptainJeff October 31, 2013 on 9:39 pm

      Jeff, none of those things are vital. They affect your life and CAN benefit you, but they are not at all necessary in any way, shape, or form. People can be single, rent, and travel often (have no roots) for the rest of their lives and be perfectly happy.

      I think one should be a part of a community, but that stopped being important decades ago–we’re all physically disconnected, but virtually connected. It’s awkward. I’d like to see a return to tight communities, albeit productive ones, not the merely social kind.

  • Corey October 31, 2013 on 9:33 pm

    There should be one goal: make the world (at any scale) a better place to live than it was before. This means healthier, safer, and easier.

    The original goals do nothing but encourage greed (earn money quickly to buy house and support family) and propagate a broken value system (you must marry and settle or you’re weird; you should buy a home in suburbia and do nothing with your life but consume and obey).

    • John Robb Corey November 1, 2013 on 1:30 pm


      Ah, but the Dream used to include a strict method of achieving the goals. Work hard and deal honestly with others. See the earlier posts.


  • Alan November 1, 2013 on 3:49 am

    The description could apply to most people who lived here before there was “America.” And to ordinary people who lived in the Soviet empire, Koreans on both sides of the 38th, etc.

    The *American* Dream is that my life is better than my parents’ lives and my kids will have better lives than me.

    “Progress” and “growth” would probably be agreed by most Americans as required for achieving the American Dream. But there are vast cognitive dissonances built into most Americans’ perceptions of progress and growth.

    BTW John, best wishes on this & future projects. Your book woke me up in a big way that continues to resonate.

    • John Robb Alan November 1, 2013 on 1:33 pm


      Good point re: goals. You hit on a very important point. Lots of people see the need for kids to do better. Have some thinking about this.

      Thanks Alan. I’ll try to keep this thought provoking.

      • Polly John Robb March 9, 2017 on 9:23 am

        You’ve captured this petycerlf. Thanks for taking the time!

  • Nico November 1, 2013 on 12:25 pm

    The way I see the goal of the American Dream is happiness, or, the ability to pursue happiness.
    Marriage, Home and Family are a the components of the (once?) widely agreed upon “perfect storm” leading to happiness. They are tools (once?) ingrained in the common values of american.

    What we want to look into is the hypothetical value shift that has been happening over the past x decades. Do people value owning a home anymore? Do people value the safety and comfort of the family structure (including marriage)?
    Maybe the answer lays in the over-exposition that those with fame and money have been able to enjoy over the past few years, thanks to the so called new technologies.
    Is that tied to ego? Do we value what other people think of us more than what we think of ourselves? Do we value how other people perceive our own happiness, than our happiness?

    • John Robb Nico November 1, 2013 on 1:39 pm

      Nico. Dealing with all of those questions too. The notion of “home and work” are changing, but are they changing in a way that provides a forward vector for our lives?

      • Nico John Robb November 1, 2013 on 5:16 pm

        I think it’s important to root those conversations in goal and values. Asking why?: Why do we want a home? a family? a job?

        Having said that, maybe it’s an encouraging fact for humanity that we are not so tied up into the dream of owning a home – That a home is now a commodity, and that we are going after something else more meaningful. That’s a very rosy and simplistic way to put it though.

        • John Robb Nico November 4, 2013 on 4:35 pm

          Nico. Still working on the goals. Big change in today’s world requires lots of small parts (it’s not top down anymore). Change the dream and….

  • John Robb November 1, 2013 on 1:40 pm

    Perhaps there aren’t any specific goals to the dream at all. What if the path is the dream.

    • Nico John Robb November 1, 2013 on 5:10 pm

      I believe that home and work and the other things you talk about are tools to happiness:

      “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.” – Aristotle

      If you look at the american dream as a certain way of achieving happiness, one that is in line with american values, then yes, the path is the goal:

      “Happiness is a journey, not a destination.” – A. Souza

  • C November 7, 2013 on 9:14 pm

    There’s a problem with defining the dream as “better life than one’s parents” is that it requires bigger better living than the original serf-peonage, wage-slave life to be avoided. So the dream should still be a better life than our ancestors in the great depression, rather than the compounding expectations seeking a new Gilded Age (that is if not universal, includes the dreamer).

    Thus “a chicken in every pot , a car in every garage”, ie food security and a modest 1250-1500 ft^2 home (often with 3+ children) became “Three cars, a 5000 ft^2 McMansion, and a record deal”.

    I agree with the general idea that economic forces drive many divorces, but due to the unrealistic expectations of an early life of luxury (if at all) and little to no financial understanding.

    • John Robb C November 8, 2013 on 4:19 am


      Agree with that. Doing better is in flux now.

      BTW: The McMansion got a lot of attention, but it didn’t represent much of a change in how we live. American homes are actually only 5% or so bigger than they were thirty years ago (on average). They are also quite a bit older on average (more problems, etc.). The thumb in the eye is that they cost a lot more (price to buy and taxes). JR

  • Christy March 9, 2017 on 9:14 am

    YMMD with that anrswe! TX