“It was true that I didn’t have much ambition, but there ought to be a place for people without ambition, I mean a better place than the one usually reserved. How in the hell could a man enjoy being awakened at 6:30 a.m. by an alarm clock, leap out of bed, dress, force-feed, shit, piss, brush teeth and hair, and fight traffic to get to a place where essentially you made lots of money for somebody else and were asked to be grateful for the opportunity to do so?” ~Charles Bukowski
Old Chuck was on to something. I mean, does anybody really enjoy chasing the American Dream? I know I don’t. Sure, I have a full time job, so perhaps this is hypocritical, but I really have to wonder if it’s not all bullshit. I take no real pleasure in my work, but I do it in order to provide the basic necessities that my family needs to survive comfortably.
That being said—what the fuck? How is this a good system? How is it a good idea to kill yourself slowly to live in a house that takes one month to build but thirty years to pay for? Why do we go into debt just to have a nicer car that depreciates by 50% the second you drive it off the lot? Why do we feel the need to abide by ridiculous social standards; cut your hair, shave your face, make sure you look good in a monkey suit? Why do we all get trapped in this vicious cycle?
Grow up, go to college, get up, go to work, fall in love, have children, accrue debt, pay taxes, raise children, grow old, fall out of love, keep getting up, keep going to work, keep buying disposable shit you don’t need in an attempt to fill the void, get up, work, pay off the debt, get too old to work, get sick, have your grown children put you in a nursing home that reeks of urine and industrial disinfectant where they come visit you on Christmas and your birthday if you’re lucky and they aren’t too busy fucking up their own lives, don’t get up, don’t go to work, get sicker, spiral into depression and then die, alone and cold, clinging desperately to your religion and hoping against all probabilities that your god actually exists, just so you can have a second chance…
That is basically how I see the American Dream. A hopeless cycle of risk, reward and punishment that we are conditioned to believe will make us happy.
Does it? Does this rat race really make you happy? Or does it just sustain you well enough to pretend that you are?
I tend to lean toward the latter.
As I openly admitted earlier, I’m a hypocrite. I take part in this bullshit chasing of the American Dream too. But I’m trying to change. And a big first step that I’ve found has helped my overall mental state is not doing things that I don’t enjoy – unless they are an absolute necessity.
Simple, right? I guess it is. Think of the things you do every week and ask yourself, “Does this activity bring joy into my life or produce a result necessary to survive comfortably?”
If the activity doesn’t fall into either category… stop doing it.
Don’t like going to church on Sunday, but feel like you should due to societal conditioning? Then stop going.
Don’t like hanging out with a particular person that has been leeching off of your friendship for years? Stop hanging out with that person.
Don’t like watching the doom and gloom that passes for network news but feel an imposed responsibility to be informed? Kill your fucking television… There are other sources of information, after all.
The lists goes on. And it’s different for each of us. Identify the things in your life that aren’t making you happy and get rid of them.
Conversely, it is equally important to find activities and people that do make you happy and pursue them.
Maybe you enjoy going to the movies, but rarely do so because you’re too busy putting in the extra hours at the office just so you climb a few more rungs of the corporate ladder? Fuck that. The ladder isn’t real anyway. Go to the movies. Work will be there tomorrow.
When was he last time you took your kids to the park or a baseball game? When was the last time you went to a standup comedy show or a live music performance? When was the last time you read a good book?
Do these things on a regular basis. Do what makes you happy. And skip the bullshit that you don’t like.
And this – this is when your job becomes useful and can actually have a positive impact on your life and your sanity. You have to work, I get it, so why not spend your earnings on things that bring enjoyment to your life? Sure, you have to take care of the basics, but maybe it’s time to redefine that word. Food, water, shelter. That doesn’t have to mean a five-bedroom, four-bath house on a two-acre lot with a couple BMWs and a Lexus SUV parked in the three-car garage and an impressive array of Armani suits hanging in the walk-in closet in the master bedroom. If we spend more of our hard-earned money on experiences and less on chasing the American Dream, we may find that we enjoy our lives much more. It’s time to reintroduce ourselves to novelty. Do something new. Explore, read, seek, enjoy. Kill your American Dream and build a new one.
In the end, the result may still be the same. We all die, certainly. And we may still end up in that miserable nursing home that reeks of piss and disinfectant; many of us certainly will, provided we are lucky enough to live that long.
But ask yourself a serious question and answer honestly. When you are laying in that bed with death closing in, looking back on your life that seemed to fly by so quickly, would you rather reflect on how much of your precious time you were able to convert to ones and zeros in your bank account, dreaming about that amazing house and all the nice cars that you acquired but never really got to enjoy because you were constantly at the office, in traffic on the way to the office, or, when you were home, too busy thinking about work? Or would you rather look back and reflect on a lifetime of new experiences, enjoyable activities and meaningful interactions with friends and family?
Again, I lean toward the latter.
But what do I know? Why the fuck should anyone listen to me? Honestly, they shouldn’t. I don’t have any answers. I’m just trying to change my own course. I can’t help you. You may have it all figured out. The corporate-ladder-rat-race-big-house-2.5 kids-meat-and-potatoes-American-Dream might truly make you happy. If so, good for you. Keep it up.
But if it doesn’t, then I think we need to take a good, long, honest look at ourselves in the mirror, identify the experiences and people that are making us unhappy and attempt to change.
We may not be successful but if we don’t at least try, then things will never get better for us.
I guess in the end most of what we do doesn’t really matter. We like to think that we are all very unique and special and important and not just a part of this seven-billion-strong army of humanity that has covered the face of a rocky planet hurtling through an infinite universe that we don’t completely understand. We live and we die. Some of us are remembered by the world for awhile; most of us are forgotten instantly – we’re all forgotten eventually. But that doesn’t change the fact that we still exist for a little while and should try to be happy in that brief amount of time. You deserve it and owe it to yourself and those around you. And even if everything I’ve just written is nothing more than the pointless rambling (which it likely is) of an unimportant, uneducated armchair philosopher too weak or too scared to take his own advise, I feel that I have at least figured out a few truths: Try to be happy. Try to be kind. Try to help those who need help.
That’s it, really.
And you don’t need me or religion or politicians to tell you these things, because you already know them. The next step, the difficult, terrifying, monumental step, is acting on this knowledge that we already possess.
We started this piece off with a Charles Bukowski quote and it seems fitting that we let the old drunk close it out as well: “We’re all going to die, all of us, what a circus! That alone should make us love each other but it doesn’t. We are terrorized and flattened by trivialities, we are eaten up by nothing.”
Good luck. I think we’ll need it.
About the Author: Nick Allison is just a banged-up combat infantry veteran of the War in Iraq. He lives in Austin, TX with his wife, their children and two big, dumb, ugly mongrel dogs.
Please feel free to send your love letters and hate mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Twitter: @ChaosSection.com or @NickAllison80
“The meaning of life is just to be alive. It is so plain and so obvious and so simple. And yet, everybody rushes around in a great panic as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves.
– Alan Watts