The American Dream

In this module of U.S. Cultural Values and Ideals, we will explore the "American Dream", how it is defined, and how it shapes U.S. society today.

Defining the "American Dream"

The Origins of the Dream

The American Dream is a national ethos of the United States, the set of ideals (Democracy, Rights, Liberty, Opportunity, and Equality) in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, and an upward  social mobility for the family and children, achieved through hard work in a society with few barriers. 

The American Dream is rooted in the Declaration of Independence, which proclaims that "all men are created equal" with the right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.


This image shows what the "fundamentals" of the "American Dream" are:

  • A traditional family of four with two children (preferably one boy and one girl )
  • A large house with a yard
  • The opportunity to work
  • The opportunity to get an education
  • The freedom to worship as you choose

What do you think about the "fundamentals" of the "American Dream"? Discuss your thoughts with your instructor and/or group.

What U.S. Citizens Think of the "American Dream"

Watch this clip to hear U.S. citizens view the "American Dream".


Discuss with your instructor and/or group your thoughts about the clip.

Is the "American Dream" Still a Reality?

Watch this BBC clip about the reality of the "American Dream" in our modern times.

Compare and contrast with your instructor and/or group the two clips.

Discuss the following questions with your instructor and/or group:

1. Has the "American Dream" changed?  In what ways?

2. Do you find any problems with the "American Dream" as seen today?

3. Is the "American Dream" realistic for everyone to achieve

4. Does the "American Dream" satisfy those who achieve it?

The World's View of the "American Dream"

 Watch this clip about an "outsiders perspective" of the "American Dream". 

Do you agree or disagree with this opinion of the U.S.? Why or why not? Discuss your thoughts with your instructor and/or group.

1. What do you  think about the "American Dream"?

2. How do those outside of the U.S. view the "American Dream"?

3. Is the"American Dream" important/relevant to those outside of the U.S.? Why or why not?

Discuss your ideas and impressions with your instructor and/or group.

The Other Dreamers

Many would argue that 'European Dream' or the 'Chinese Dream' are beginning to overshadow the 'American Dream'.

The European Dream: How Europe's Vision of the Future Is Quietly Eclipsing the American Dream is a book, by Jeremy Rifkin published on August 19, 2004 by Jeremy P. Tarcher Inc. He argues that the European Union, which he describes as the first truly postmodern governing body, is already an economic superpower rivaling the U.S., and has the potential to become a full world superpower.

According to Rifkin, the "European Dream" is one in which individuals find security not through individual accumulation of wealth, but through connectivity and respect for human rights. Rifkin argues that this model is better-suited to 21st-century challenges than the "American Dream".

The Chinese Dream (simplified Chinese: 中国梦; traditional Chinese: 中國夢; pinyinZhōngguó mèng) is a term popularized after 2013 within Chinese socialist thought that describes a set of personal and national ideals in the People's Republic of China and the Communist Party of China.[1]

 Xi Jinping, who is the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, said that young people should "dare to dream, work assiduously to fulfill the dreams and contribute to the revitalization of the nation."[4] According to the party's theoretical journal Qiushi, the Chinese Dream is about Chinese prosperity, collective effort, socialism and national glory.[5] The relationship between the phrase and the American Dream has been debated. 

Compare and contrast the "dreams" of the world what value and influence they have on their cultures.

America the Idea

It has been said that the United States isn't a formal culture as much as it is a set of ideas that the citizens subscribe to. These ideas have and continue to draw people from around the world.

America never was a nation in the usual sense of the word. Though there are plenty of exceptions — especially among the made-up nations of former European colonies — nations are usually composed of groups of people who share common blood, culture, and language...Neither blood, history, religion, language — what else is left? Only an idea: that you could come to America and be whatever you wanted to be. You might have been a bog-trotter in Ireland or a baron in Silesia; in America you were free to become whatever you could make of yourself.

The idea of  America shapes U.S. society in every way.  

We will explore how this idea affects our values, relationships and culture in the following modules.