It’s an ingrained American philosophy, Go Big Or Go Home! It urges dreaming big. It motivates tycoons, innovators, CEOs. I myself can see where this philosophy played a large role in my life and career, I did things seemingly impossible for someone with no financial backing, and I am in awe of that 20 something year old’s confidence and ambition. The American Dream is a beautiful thing, it creates some of the most genius, most creative, and most productive people in the world. But it is no secret that in this country with big dreams there are also big problems. The current health crises in our country include mental illness, opioid addiction, and alcohol abuse. Many complain of unhappiness, stress, and anxiety, of not measuring up, of feeling dissatisfied even after achieving success.
I read an article recently in which the business owner was bragging about having 3 phones for his 3 different businesses – it made me cringe. Three phones??? I can barely stand one?!? There is nothing appealing about that to me. Demanding screen time, chained to a plane, and always in pursuit of the next schmooze opportunity, it may breed busyness (busyness that delays oneself any quiet time to truly reflect on life), but it does not breed happiness.
In a small village called Riez in the Luberon Valley in Provence there lives a bed and breakfast owner, a baker, a cafe owner, and many other small business people. They all know each other and they all have a peace about them. The B&B owner isn’t trying to open up hotels across France, the baker isn’t trying to develop e-commerce across the globe, and the cafe owner is simply serving food fresh from the region. After being in the this village several days, one thing was clear – these people were happy with their lives. They possessed a delightfulness that was downright infectious. They were creating beauty in this tiny village and they lived beautifully and sustainably. They weren’t famous, nor did they care to be. They weren’t rich, nor did they care to be. They also had immense pride for where they lived. This is something I’ve observed in various small towns across the globe.
Maybe the recipe for a happy, more peaceful life isn’t more, but less. Maybe it’s about creating beauty in this world, a sense of purpose, intrinsic relationships, and being part of a community. Maybe we need to reevaluate what we glorify in this country. Maybe we need to celebrate the small as well as the big. Maybe this American Dream isn’t one size fits all. Maybe it needs to also deeply respect those that choose a more simple life. Maybe in a culture that thrives on competitiveness and ‘me me me’, we need to remember we are all a part of this system and the more people that succeed the more fruitful this country will be. Maybe this American Dream needs to thrive on helping each other find purposes that inspire us, purposes that leave us feeling peaceful rather than asking ‘what’s next?’