How Americans Define the “American Dream” Today

by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Writer

(June 23, 2008) While Americans may like to read about the rich and famous in the tabloids, most don’t define the American dream by those standards. When polled, three quarters of American adults say that being in good health, living a life of integrity and having one marriage partner for life is their idea of a wonderful life. 

A recent poll conducted in May by The Barna Group among 1,003 adults from across the U.S. found that there were six specific conditions that at least three-quarters of all adults identified as being very important elements in their ideal life. These include having good physical health (listed by 85%), living with a high degree of integrity (85%), having one marriage partner for life (80%), having a clear purpose for living (77%), having a close relationship with God (75%), and having close, personal friendships (74%).

Another half dozen items were listed by at least half of the adults interviewed. Those conditions included having a comfortable lifestyle (mentioned by 70%), having a satisfying sex life with their marriage partner (66%), having children (66%), living close to family and relatives(63%), being deeply committed to the Christian faith (59%), and making a difference in the world (56%).

Only a minority of Americans thought having a big house (18%), a high paying job (28%), and achieving fame (7%) were a part of their vision for the good life.

Barna conducted similar surveys on life goals since 1991 and found that of the 19 possible life conditions tracked, 11 remained relatively the same over the last two decades.

“So much in our world is changing, yet people’s dreams for their life hinge on the same, unchanging desires: health, relationships, character, faith and comfort,” said George Barna, who has overseen this tracking research since it originated in 1991. “As our life context changes, so do the ways in which people pursue and realize these dreams, but their desires remain anchored to some fundamental values that seem to weather the changing times.”

Barna also indicated that the mainstream media has portrayed American society as changing more radically than it has. “There have been some hugely significant changes in the laws of the land over the past quarter-century. However, when you examine what people want, in essence they are seeking what used to be described as traditional family values: a single marriage for life, a solid family experience, displaying good character, living a life that has meaning and impact, and having an active faith.

“Sometimes the abundant opportunities and challenges of daily life distract or divert people from their commitment to these outcomes,” the researcher continued, “but in their hearts they have retained some pretty basic and traditional hope and dreams. Leaders might take note of this and compare their own vision and plans for the future with the ideal life that Americans hope to experience.”

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