The American Dream

James Duffy

You’re going to hear something counter-intuitive from a mortgage guy.

How many of us associate ‘The American Dream’ with buying your own home?

Probably a lot.

At least in my industry owning your own home is largely associated with arriving, finally living the American Dream.

The problem with that definition is two-fold: it is finite, implying that you have arrived; and it tends to expand into buying stuff, big stuff like a house, is the source of happiness.

It is not.

I know, I know…the CEO of my mortgage company would call me out on this one, were he to read this post. ‘Hey man, you work for a mortgage company, and here you are telling people that buying a home is NOT the American Dream? How about we re-educate you a bit.”

(Okay, knowing the CEO of my company, I actually think he would agree with the marjority of this post.)

Here’s where I am going with this. Buying more and more stuff, including a big house, is not the source of happiness. Even though a whole lot of us Americans live like it actually is.

First, the problem with that definition of the American Dream that of accumulating stuff, more and bigger and brighter stuff.

We work hard for our money (so hard for it, honey), and then we cannibalize our own ability to create wealth with our money by giving it to the master marketers who tell us happiness is just this *thing* away. So we get more stuff. But we cannot afford the bigger house and cool car and all the trappings that go with it, because we have spent so much money on previous stuff, so we finance it.

Then, will the fancy car and house and designer furniture, we need to look the part with Michael Kors handbags and designer clothes. And that brings a status level that has friends suggesting we meet up for dinner at the $100 a plate restaurant. And Instagram would be incomplete without our posts from the dream vacation destination. And then we need…

You fill in the blank.

And we are stressed.

With no money left.

There is a different way…and the difference results in a whole new level of happiness.

Happiness is a result of growth, I would argue.

What’s the last thing you learned, struggled with, and mastered? And by mastered, I mean that you accomplished something that you could not before?

Okay, here’s a small example, and one that you have done; this or something similar.

Not too long ago our washing machine quit working, and was flashing some odd error code on the front. My first reaction as my wife called me into the laundry room to take a look was to call a repair guy. But, I found the owner’s manual, right where I left it when we bought the machine years ago. And, that particular error code was not listed in the manual. Convenient. Time to call the repair guy.

No, that’s not what I did. I turned to the one resource all home owners turn to first: Youtube. And there was a really cool video made by a homeowner that walked through the error code and how to fix it. Very, very good homemade video by a hero homeowner.

About 40 minutes later I emerged from the laundry, a bit smelly, and relishing my newfound handyman skills with a fully functioning washer. Got to use some tools, too. Bonus.

Now, that’s a bane example, sure. And one I know you have lived in various different feats – but you learned something new and felt the sense of accomplishment, didn’t you?

Learning a new skill brings happiness.

Not just simple things like a washing machine fix; but constantly learning and doing and expanding in different areas of life.

The unintended consequence of working on mastering a new skillset is that you focus on bettering yourself. That focus in many cases can consume your attention. When your attention is focused on growth, it is necessarily not focused on stuff.

Doing makes you happy. Stuff promises fill your desires with alluring, though false, promises of happiness. It’s too easy to buy stuff, and therefore not as fulfilling as doing, creating, growing.

A friend of mine is a professor, currently on a sabbatical year, and completely consumed by writing his first book (other than his thesis, which was published). It is way outside his comfort zone, and he is passionately trying to master the art of authorship. It is fun to watch and hear his new passion.

My brother took up riding a bike some time back. Late last Summer he completed a 100 mile bike ride across Indiana in the last big heatwave of Summer. He threw up, contemplated not finishing, but did press on. I enjoyed hearing his passion in talking about the bike trip, his strategy and the execution even through adversity.

I am currently studying marketing, and learning a lot. Every time I learn and implement something I can measure how it works, what didn’t, and I keep realizing that there is a long way to master what I initially thought might be a relatively simple skill. It’s not so simple.

The point is, whether your learning furthers your career, helps you get in better shape or helps strengthen your relationships, the mere act of stretching and learning and doing something difficult and uncomfortable will simultaneously help you reach a new level of happiness.

And it will likely also either help you earn more or save more money, as you will be focused on growth, not consumption.

Try it. You will find that you are living the American Dream at a whole new level…and may have money to grow.

You grow. Money grows. Win.

About The Author

For years, 18 as of this writing, I have walked beside average men and women of all ages on a specific journey. The journey of home ownership.
And what I have discovered in opening up the financial reality of thousands of individuals & couples is a constant mix if fear, hope, confusion and achievement. It really is an exhilarating journey!
And I have read innumerable books on personal finance, read the blogs and listened to the podcasts, and spoken to the experts. And there always seems to be a bit of a disconnect between the theory of ‘personal finance’ and the lived reality of what is, truly, personal finance.

This is a place where real life meets real money. I hope you will come along on the journey to explore Finance, on the Front Line.


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