American Dream Drives Obsession with Success

There is an epidemic that has spread across the United States, and no, it is not Ebola. It has been hiding under our noses, ever-present like the stack of homework on our desks. Currently most closely related to sugar, this entity is constantly sought after, and the more we taste it, the more we want it, usually overindulging to the point of sickness.

Coined as “Oversuccess” by Author Jim Rubens, this concept has been described as the obsession in America with “wealth, fame, power, and perfection” or any other similar metric of success.

With one in three adults dissatisfied with their lives, the nation in its largest public and private debt to date, hundreds of thousands of contestants every year auditioning for talent shows, etc… this drive for personal achievement and recognition, whether demonstrating it through wealth, fame, or power, is taking its toll on the country.

But why have Americans become obsessed with success?

Capitalism. Done. Fin. Finished.

Just kidding, that would be too easy. And I am not here to bash on Capitalism. It has its perks.

A contributing factor to this obsession is the Protestant work ethic. Since there was no particular way to know who those predestined for heaven were (the elect), it was thought that those who were socially and financially successful (from being hard working and frugal) in their life on earth were destined for heaven.

In turn, hard work and frugality became qualities to strive for among Protestants that were passed down through the generations and have become ingrained in our culture.

Capitalism, another contributing factor, is a means to an end that fosters our commercial culture and is the platform for which we can constantly compete against one another in business and in acquisition of personal possessions.

The mixed economy of the United States rewards those who work harder with more profits, which contributes to wealth, fame, and power. Essentially, capitalism is the set of rules we play by so we can win the game of life, which in Milton Bradley’s case is to own the most money. Go figure.

While the Protestant work ethic and Capitalism are both major contributors to “oversuccess”, in my opinion, it is our obsession with competing in America that is at the heart of the issue. We compete at everything.

I am definitely guilty of turning any activity, no matter how insignificant, into a competition, and in the end caring more about winning than enjoying myself.

TV shows have even turned some of the most enjoyable activities, like dancing and cooking, into competitions, for example, So You Think You Can Dance and Iron Chef.

We especially love to win. Look at all of our Olympic Gold medals and the space race. As stated in Psychology Today:

“Having a winning mindset has its obvious advantages. It generates intensity, determination and effort, and often success can fill our lives with meaning. But a competitive mindset has serious problems. The first is pitting America against the rest of the world, and Americans aggressively promoting the notion that they are ‘the best.’ This generates constant tension and stress in life. The second is winning never produces permanent satisfaction, because once the victory is attained, the next one is quickly sought after. A competitive mindset and focus on winning can also introduce a continuous state of dissatisfaction with one’s life.”

Wealth, fame, and power are just a few metrics we compete with each other on.

There appears to be one simple solution to this obsession with success in America. Since we cannot immediately alter our economic system or cultural values, deviating from a desire to win and just enjoying the activity or journey will help alleviate some of the stresses in living in the most competitive country in the world.

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