April 5, 2010

Americans: Always On the Go.

People around the world, including Americans, idealize the American dream; the ability Americans have to strive for better lives. People believe that while it may be easier for some to achieve financial success, that in America it is possible for everyone to do so. There is financial aid to help all American children go to college. There are young women who marry someone successful and live lives of luxury, because in America, we are socially permitted to marry whomever we want- regardless of “social” status. Even some of the wealthiest people in this country, like Bill Gates, did not graduate college. While all of the potential for success should make us happy- I argue that it does the opposite- it prevents us from ever being satisfied, because we’re always striving for more.

Americans set goals for themselves and as soon as they achieve them, create new ones. Americans focus on finishing high school to go to college to get an internship to go to graduate school to get a job to get married to have kids. Then, they get there. They’re married, and they have a job, and they have kids- and most of the time- still feel like something is missing. This is what we call a “mid-life crisis” and it is a result of continuously working towards something we’ve been told we should want, only to realize when we get there it’s not what we wanted at all.

There are two primary reasons why we are constantly striving for professional success and to find lifelong partners. The first, is because it is what American society has told us will make us happy- and we believe it. The second, is our pride. Everyone wants to be perceived by others as successful, and because American society measures success by one’s career and family situation people have a desire to achieve those things.

In other countries people do not believe their lives are perfect, but there is not the same anxiousness and discontent that resides over the present. For example, the Chinese and Japanese take a zen-like, meditative approach to the present. They accept and appreciate what the “now,” while striving for improvement. In Spanish and Latin America- everything moves just a little bit slower. In Spain, families take siesta every weekday in which all businesses close from two to five; adults return home from work and kids from school. Families eat a long home-cooked lunch together and then often take a nap. In Italy, people take walks through the piazzas (courtyards) after dinner. With no agenda, they stroll, talking with one another, and enjoying the night. In all of these countries, while the people have jobs- the emphasis is not on work, it is on the time that they’re not working. All of these traditions were borne out of a realization of the importance of stopping work to just live. In America, we feel we must always have a purpose for everything we do. We must walk to go somewhere. Eat to satisfy our hunger. We can never just exist.

My dad always use to say he prefers to eat the “European” way. Not just to eat, but to “dine.” Europeans don’t just eat and get the bill as soon as they’re done. Every meal, whether its lunch during a work day or dinner at night with the family is an experience.

America is one of the only countries with a Christian foundation in which almost all restaurants and clothing stores remain open on Sundays, with at least one 24 hour diner, fast-food restaurant, and drug store in every town. Businessmen are now expected to have phones with e-mail so that as they’re moving between places they can continue to work. We’re always on the go- always moving- and for what?

It’s not as though Americans don’t appreciate the ability to sit down and just relax, but that’s what we’ve designed vacation for. Our every day lives are for working and our vacations are for enjoying ourselves, excluding the few lucky ones who are fortunate enough to land themselves in a profession they enjoy. So while we say the purpose of life is to be happy, I find it ironic that we spend our lives doing things that prevent us from being so.

Maybe we should take a tip from the rest of the world. Instead of spending the present working, so that we can enjoy ourselves in the future. We should just stop- and enjoy ourselves now. Because we’ve learned that as soon as we meet a goal we just create a new one for ourselves. So what are we really striving for?

mmm...I could use a nap just about now. Siesta anyone?

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