When it comes to pursuing the American Dream nothing shakes our confidence like economic disruption.
According to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, by 1989 employment in goods-producing industries had dropped from the 1950’s level of 40% to 25%. Offshoring manufacturing jobs, robotics and the adoption of lean and six sigma practices all contributed to the decline.
The coal mining industry has also seen significant declines in employment. Like manufacturing, some it was spurred by cheaper alternatives (other fuels), some by equipment innovations, still others by environmental regulation.
Today, we’re seeing increased retail bankruptcies and store closings and with them a decline in retail jobs. In my opinion, some of these losses are the result of Walmart’s success with a low-price strategy. In an attempt to counter Walmart’s success many retailers abandoned, or lost sight of, their differentiators. In doing so, they adopted low-price strategies without the low-cost structure needed to make that strategy work.
Retail’s problems were compounded by Amazon’s easy online shopping and speedy delivery. As other retailers offered online shopping, the public’s interest in “going shopping” waned. Why fight the parking hassles and crowds when you can get what you want delivered to your door overnight?
During these disruptions, Americans looked for ways to improve their skills, to make themselves more attractive in the job market…a market that was shrinking at virtually every level within our organizations.
To that end many invested in higher and higher levels of education. Today, these folks face $1.3 trillion dollars in debt without an attendant growth in wages and little hope that wages will rise significantly in the near future. It’s little wonder that they’re plagued with feelings of scarcity…with a desire to protect themselves from further attacks on their economic welfare.
Bummed out yet?
I’m not sadistic by nature, but I felt it important for you to feel the emotions that I believe are driving the pessimism, nationalistic view, anger and frustration that exist today. My intent is to offer an alternative view that replaces the fear, anxiety and frustration many are experiencing with hope, optimism and the will to live happily.
The good news
Despite all the negatives outlined above, we Americans still enjoy a life much better than the vast majority of the people in the world. Not very comforting? I agree. It brings to mind my mother’s reference to all of the starving people of the world when I wouldn’t eat my vegetables. I felt sorry for the people, but felt that I lacked the ability to change their plight.
A better way, to me, is redefining the American Dream. In my opinion, we place too much emphasis on economics and too little upon happiness. Years ago I was a wealth advisor. During that time I met a number of people with mid-six-figure incomes that I never saw smile. I also played softball with a guy who, with overtime, was supporting 14 kids on roughly $60,000 a year. He was always smiling.
What happiness (American Dream) is
While good economic conditions can make life more comfortable and enjoyable, they cannot provide happiness. We’re happiest when we’re:
- Enjoying family and friends.
- Laughing at a good joke or enjoying a romantic evening.
- Being there for a friend who’s suffering.
- Pursuing what interests us.
- Sharing the amazement kids experience as they discover the world.
- Exploring nature and teaching our kids to love it as well.
- Learning new things just because we want to.
None of these require great economic conditions. Our ancestors experienced happiness with far fewer economic benefits than we Americans enjoy today.
Lesson for us
Whenever you experience feelings of scarcity, anxiety, fear or frustration, engage in one of the activities in the list above. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you regain the joy of living.
For our kids
When your kids are feeling down because things aren’t going their way. Hear them out, then engage them in one of the activities above. They too will quickly rise from their funk and, once again, be happy.
Once they’ve regained that happiness, let them know that it’s the same for everyone. When we focus on ourselves, our “plight,” we are sad and fearful. But when we focus on the welfare of others, the world is always a happy place.
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