Aristotle VS the American Dream: Is America Really Happy?

Gretchen Maddock | Period 7 | Honorbound

In our society, money matters a lot. New houses, new cars, new electronics—we’ve all felt the pressure and the desire to keep getting more and more of it. We work and struggle so that we might have more money with which to fulfill these material dreams so that we might be happy. But really, if materials and wealth are all we strive for, are we living up to our full potential? Is this really the best “end” to our struggles, and are we truly happy when we get there?

Aristotle states that ”the good of man is exercise of his faculties in accordance with the excellence or virtue, or, if there be more than one, in accordance with the best and most complete virtue” [1]. He claims that the “good of man” is the exercise of his faculties, or his soul. This implies that action is meant to be both physical exercise and mental, such as contemplation. Aristotle believes the “good life” not to be an end state, but rather the life that we live. So, with that in mind, how does our society’s lifestyle match up?

Although we may be working, that does not mean we are working to our full potential. This does not mean working oneself to the bone—instead, we are not allowing ourselves ample time for contemplation and rest. We also are treating money and property as happiness, and that “happiness” as our end goal. Little do we know, living like this is really making us worse off. The author of Materialism in Modern Life states, “…we have four important needs which are not being met in the type of society we live in. These include: the need to feel secure, to feel we belong to a community, feel competent in our work and lives and to feel autonomous and authentic. The people who are the most emotionally distressed are those who digress from such values and replace them with ideals focusing on social/physical appearances, money, possessions and fame” [2]. Because we obsess over our societal “end goal”, we lose track of virtue—things like community, security, and contemplation are left behind for the ability to buy a new iPhone and a new Mercedes.

In that case, what about the “American Dream?” Is this new and obsessive focus on material gain destroying the virtues that were supposed to make us truly happy? According to Shanzeh Khurram’s article “Is the American Dream Becoming too Materialistic?”, “Shopping is not a problem on its own; It’s the obsessive accumulation of unnecessary products, along with the hope that [they] will somehow make you happier that is problematic. The things that we own often end up owning us, and that’s what I see around me. People are obsessed with material goods” [3].

Our society today is not living up to our full potential—we’re likely not even scratching the surface of what a life of happiness really is. If we start thinking about our “goal” being more than money and pleasure, we might be able to change that.

[1] Aristotle. Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics.

[2] “Materialism in Modern Life – Psychminds Everyday Psychological Discussions.” Psychminds Everyday Psychological Discussions. 2013. http://psychminds.com/materialism-in-modern-life/.

[3] Khurram, Shanzeh. “Is the American Dream Becoming Too Materialistic?” The Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/shanzeh-khurram/is-the-american-dream-bec_b_2702164.html.

[4] https://www.flickr.com/photos/louish/5443822570.

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