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Life Liberty and The Pursuit of Happiness: Critical Essay

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The American Dream? More like the American Nightmare. It is described as “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”, the belief that anyone can gain success if they work hard enough. The American Dream was originally invented in 1931 by historian James Adams (Michael Leweyn, 2003). Adams referred to it as 'That dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to his ability or achievement.' It is now 2019, and with the value, beliefs, and attitudes of society changing so often, how could this be applicable to today’s world, when it was created 88 years ago? The American Dream is not a dream, but a goal that is unobtainable because it makes women reliant on men for success, wealth, and happiness, is unavailable to lower classes, and it requires an obsession for materialistic items and money. These aspirations are set by the upper class in society and motivate people to work longer and harder and socialize less, therefore experiencing the opposite of 'Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness', because happiness cannot be achieved without socializing and creating relationships. This cultural hegemony simply cannot be enforced in today's society because of the different job opportunities and pay rates. Buying a house and a car, and getting a steady job is not as easy as it was back in the 1930s-2000s. In fact, the majority of my generation will likely struggle to get a steady job, let alone a house and a car. These concepts of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness are not as undeniable and available as people believe and are sometimes challenged by texts such as The Great Gatsby (1925), or other sources such as the movie Little Miss Sunshine (2006). Both of these critique this view of a family, a house, and a car being the basis of everybody's happiness. After all, this influence of the higher classes still occurs today, with so many celebrities manipulating audiences by either directly or indirectly informing them which practices and products are 'more correct' than others. As such, this gatekept American Dream itself is an idealized state of mind, not taking the same form as the higher class manipulates it to be.

The American Dream is a symbol of happiness. Guided by the need to fit in, millions of people go to work every day hoping that they will, in some part, get that bit closer to accessing the American Dream. However, due to the nature of the class structure, where it is increasingly problematic to move classes, and the capitalist foundations that underpin our society, people are not likely to access the Dream any time soon. This concept of The American Dream is clearly shown in the 1925 novel, 'The Great Gatsby' and also in the 2006 movie, 'Little Miss Sunshine'. The American Dream is an idealized state of mind, which is set by the bourgeoisie and is reinforced through cultural hegemony. Therefore, leaving it inaccessible since the rich act as the gatekeepers.

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Money doesn’t buy happiness. It’s a saying everyone has heard at least once in their lifetime. In “The Great Gatsby”, Jay Gatsby spent his whole life earning the wealth and reputation that he thought would win Daisy over, and get the connection they had before he went to war back. “He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it”, was a quote spoken by Nick Carraway in the book. It portrays the impression that although Gatsby was rich and could afford anything, he would never be able to get the thing he wanted the most, Daisy. Daisy never wanted to admit to her husband, Tom, that she had feelings for Gatsby, no matter how much money Gatsby had, which meant he never got happiness. This situation shows that money doesn’t bring happiness, as Jay could buy anything he wanted, except for the person he wanted. Connections and relationships with people bring happiness, and they are not something you can buy. Gatsby died unhappy with no friends or family because of his money.

In the film “Little Miss Sunshine”, the family is trying to achieve the American Dream, which in their eyes is winning the beauty pageant. Winning the pageant, they think will fulfill the family. Near the end of the film, the family abandons the idea of winning, and it’s what makes them come together as a family and have true happiness. They abandoned the idea of achieving what they thought was the American Dream and came together as a family to achieve the REAL American Dream. The family is seen as one from a lower class; they don’t have a big house, a brand-new car, or expensive clothes. The beauty pageant was for “beautiful” children, and the parents of those children had a lot of money. Olive’s family never had a chance of winning the pageant, simply because they weren’t rich or from a high class. They never achieved the “American Dream”, because it was off-limits to them. The movie shows that lower classes or people without much money can’t achieve their Dream.

The American Dream is just an ideology that people wish would exist. People want to achieve happiness and fulfillment easily and quickly and thought the American Dream would be the key to earning it. In reality, it only causes more unhappiness for those who have it and is cut off by the majority of the population just because they don’t have enough money to gain access to it. If you think about it, people are basically paying money for happiness. That is all the American Dream is. Why would you do that if you could just gain happiness by developing close relationships with family and friends? “The Great Gatsby” and the “Little Miss Sunshine” film and novel prove my point, as none of the characters ever reached happiness in the novel, and in the film, the family realized how to get the real American Dream…by being with each other at the moment and staying close. Relationships matter more than money, and they are the definite way to achieve true happiness.

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Life Liberty and The Pursuit of Happiness: Critical Essay. (2023, August 28). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 5, 2024, from
“Life Liberty and The Pursuit of Happiness: Critical Essay.” Edubirdie, 28 Aug. 2023,
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