In the Pursuit of Happiness
What is behind the book
A Story Guidebook about family rejuvenation, adventure,
and learning how to reclaim the simple joys of life
by Suzanne Saxe-Roux and Jean-Pierre Roux
The American Dream: The Facts
excerpted from Courage and Croissants
The facts that lead up to this story and life guidebook all started in 1931 when James Turslow Adams in his book, The Epic of America, first coined the term The American Dream.
Growing up as baby-boomers, we were all told to follow the American Dream. These two words were discussed at dinner tables, in the workplace, in schools, churches, in government, and at the bars—all as code words for creating the perfect life. It was based upon the belief that with hard work and determination, anyone can prosper and achieve anything and everything they wanted. With this hard work ethic, there was a secondary belief that parents would be able to easily provide more for their children than they themselves ever had: a bigger house, education, opportunity, and better jobs.
The idea is still alive, but many things have changed since 1931. Today there is a growing belief that the American Dream of devoting your life to your work in order to reap the rewards is no longer valid. The cost to one’s family, one’s health, and one’s own well-being can be sustained only for a period of time, not for forty years. This focus on the importance of well-being is not new, but is reflected in the Declaration of Independence, written over 200 years ago. “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
In the late1970s, as an unprecedented number of women entered the workforce, the notion of work began to change. It was no longer a job but a career. Slowly but surely, the notion of work starting at 9:00 and ending at 5:00 became a thing of the past. For working couples, this meant more income and the ability to buy bigger homes, better cars, private education, and abundant luxury items, but it also meant they were building a lifestyle based on the requirement of two incomes. Working moms became super moms and taking time off to raise a child was unheard of for most women (and often not financially possible). Soon, this was followed by a move away from working in one company for your lifetime to becoming your own brand and being told “you have to take care of yourself.” The Catalyst organization reported, “…by 2005, the family structure changed dramatically in which only 17% of households had a husband in the workforce and wife who was not bringing in a paycheck, down 63% since 1950. (1) That means over 83% of households have two working adults and approximately half of those have children under 18.” This shift in lifestyle alone has drastically changed how Americans and people in other countries as well, spend their time. The net result is that a lot less time is available for anything but developing your career and taking care of the children and household chores.
Simultaneously, many of us were led to believe that if we were loyal, hard working, productive, and continuously added value, jobs would be plentiful, our retirements would be secure, careers would keep on developing, and the American lifestyle would be a given. Even as we lived through recession after recession, layoff after layoff, companies taking away retirements, benefits, and our overall security, we still believed in the elusive dream. We trusted in the growth of the GNP, the finance markets, the stock markets, and our leaders. The irony is that we kept on believing, working harder than ever, and ignoring all the indications around us.
The American Dream as we knew it was shifting like sand from under our feet. By 2001, the signs were crystal clear that our view of the future was changing at lightning speed. By 2008, everything was up for grabs. We had to begin to rethink work, life, family, careers, jobs, retirement, and the pursuit of happiness.
Today calls for a harsh reassessment focused on our pursuit of life (as we want it to be), liberty (the freedom to do what we choose) and the pursuit of happiness (living a happy and healthy life). Sarkozy, the President of France, recently proposed that the G-20 world leaders join together in a “revolution” to shift the measurement of economic progress from gross domestic product to account for factors such as health-care availability and leisure time. “The global financial crisis,” reports Sarkozy, “doesn’t only make us free to imagine other models, another future, and another world. It obliges us to do so.” As early as 1972, the small Himalayan country of Bhutan announced that it was focusing on Gross National Happiness as its measure of development. It is based on the premise that the development of society takes place when both material and spiritual developments occur side by side and reinforce each other. It is not just one-sided, focused on stressing economic growth—both ideas of the equation matter equally. The four pillars measured in Bhutan are sustainable development, preservation and promotion of cultural values, conserving the natural environment, and establishing good governance. Not a bad way to measure development. Imagine if we integrated these concepts into our GNP.
The American Dream is being replaced with the New American Lifestyle. This lifestyle is based upon quality of living indicators. It is no longer just about work, but about the total quality of the life we live. In 2005, the Economist developed an index based upon nine quality of life indicators: material well-being, life expectancy, political stability and security, family life, community life, climate and geography, job security, political freedom, gender equality. The key in the study was to understand the interplay of modernity and tradition in determining life satisfaction. It doesn’t matter how much money you have in the bank or how new your car is, but how secure you feel and satisfied you are with your overall life—physically, mentally, spiritually. The time is coming in which the public will demand that these qualities are included as key measures for developed nations.
In the past twenty-five years, the interplay between the quality of life indicators has been severely affected by the advent of women in the workplace, two career couples, long commutes, business travel, periodic stock market crashes, declining home values, layoffs and resizing, devaluation of retirement accounts, and a decline in company benefits. Added to these ongoing grating trends are increasing healthcare costs, an erosion of a quality public education for all, the need to stay connected 24/7, and the demands placed on workers and families to balance it all. As a result there has been enormous erosion in healthy, stable family and community life and our overall sense of well-being.
Taking it further, Marcus Buckingham, in his book Find your Strongest Life (2009), reports that women are generally less happy than they were forty years ago. He reports, “In the past four decades, women have secured better job prospects, greater acknowledgement for achievement, wider influence, more free time, and higher salaries. And yet, recent studies reveal that women have gradually become less happy than they were 40 years ago, and less happy than men—and unlike men, they grow sadder as they get older.” Additional research shows a trend toward overall anxiety and stress becoming paramount in society. As early as 2000, the Gallup poll reported that 80% of workers report feeling stress on the job, and the CDC states that 70-80% of all visits to the doctor are for stress-related and stress-induced illnesses.
Coinciding with the rise of stress-related illnesses has been the increasing recognition that the workplace does need to examine old assumptions, policies, and human resource practices—quality of life for employees does matter. Companies such as Deloitte Touche have implemented what they call career lattices. Different from the career ladder, which is upward only, the lattice allows employees to take their careers in many directions without being looked upon negatively. Instead of one career path, the realization of retaining and hiring good talent is dependent on their ability to customize career paths for each person in four domains: pace, workload, location/schedule, and role. Mirroring real life, Deloitte Touche and other “Best companies to work with” are beginning to recognize that at different times in your life, you will have different needs that require changing how you work and live. Companies that are serious about retaining top talent are embracing flexible work arrangements ranging from part-time to telecommuting, to compressed schedules. In a survey of Fortune 500 male executives (Miller and Miller 2005), 84% of male executives said they would like to work flexibly to allow them to pursue their professional aspirations while having more time for activities outside of work. Thankfully, some of these forward-thinking companies are betting on attracting and retaining great employees by building programs for career flexibility and encouraging living a more balanced life.
Complementing this movement is the push for each and every employee to brand themselves, focus on their strengths, determine their identity, their value, and their expertise, and continue to keep on growing and learning in their chosen field. The idea is that expertise and talents are what people will pay for and each person is individually responsible for managing their career and their financial retirement needs. The stated and unstated contracts of a company taking care of you are long gone. As long as you perform well and the company needs your services, you will have a position. If and when either is no longer true, you are on your own. This shift is both welcoming and unsettling as the new American Lifestyle continues to redefine itself.
Today, we watch the courageous surge of experienced professionals, voluntarily and involuntarily, moving towards entrepreneurship. Today’s internet technology has enabled anyone to work, market, and compete globally with low overhead and a high level of flexibility. The attraction to be one’s own boss has a similar ring to the American Dream, but is somewhat different. It’s not just about work, but it is about creating a lifestyle of flexibility and fullness, being your own boss and doing work you love. The sense of false security working for a corporation is replaced by the belief in oneself above anything else.
As the new American Lifestyle continues to evolve, corporate America will as well. The shift from an obsession with work to living a full life will continue to be challenged by every type of worker from entrepreneurs, to skilled talent, to college graduates, to dual career couples and families, women, men, and experienced retirees. The new American Lifestyle we speak of is gaining momentum in every walk of life.
More recently, the global ethical and financial crisis has pushed us to look more closely at how we are living our lives. The spiraling greed and illegal business practices of Enron and the risky behavior of Wall Street were only the tip of the iceberg. We truly don’t know what other surprises will come our way, but we are now aware that nothing will ever be like it was before. The American Dream was all mom and apple pie—it never spoke of greed, corruption, and the possibility that trusted professionals would be either unethical or laissez-faire about the long-term and global implications of their decisions. The American Dream blindly screamed out, if you work hard, it too will come.
Millions of Americans now realize that our lives, our global economy, the world of work, and our institutions have to change. The old rules, the old expectations, and old behaviors are no longer serving our country, ourselves, or our planet. Whether voluntarily or involuntarily, we are becoming environmentally conscious and need to change our ways. Our habits of being consumers, focusing on instant gratification, and living with a “we deserve it” mentality have shifted. Our habits of being the “throw-away” society are being closely re-examined. The simplicity movement has become mainstreamed. It is no longer about living off the land, but about taking care of our planet and enjoying the simple things in life, first and foremost. It’s about using our natural resources wisely and choosing not to always want more at the expense of what is most important. It’s about living a full, healthy, joyful life and fulfilling our dreams. Our challenge is riding the wave as the pieces realign towards the new American Lifestyle. The need to be creators of our own destiny, communities, and planet is more important than ever.
A strong economy, political stability, and safety are still critically important, but of equal value is our right to pursue good health, well-being, and happiness. More specifically, this new American Lifestyle can be defined as having meaningful work that provides a sense of well-being, living in a safe and healthy environment, being with people you care about, and living a pace of life that allows you to pursue other interests. The pendulum is moving from materialism to a full, quality life. This sounds like the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness redefined once again as our forefathers intended.
That leads us to our story
This Story Guidebook describes a professional couple and their young daughter who decide to take time out in order to rediscover a new life. We encounter self-discovery, exhaustion, depression, decision making, risk-taking, adventure, rejuvenation, travel, love, family, and re-discovery. We wrote this book to entertain, inspire, teach, and motivate, and to expand your world. Our book is also, we hope, thought-provoking, and a self-help map for manifesting your own dreams. We have seasoned the story throughout with small explanatory inserts on how you can begin to create a healthy, joyful life.
Whether you are want to adjust your lifestyle in small or big ways, we hope you enjoy our story and our guided tips help you to unearth your dreams.
The story always continues, as does the journey to creating your best life. We wish you good healthy, joy, and much happiness.
Enjoy the reading and please send us your thoughts.
We would love to hear from you.
Taken from forthcoming book, Courage and Croissants, Inspiring Joyful Living, A Story and Life Guidebook by Suzanne Saxe-Roux and Jean-Pierre Roux
All Rights Reserved 2010