10/19/2012 11:15 am ET Updated Dec 19, 2012

Is the American Dream Still Worth It?

I moved from Europe to NYC when I was 18 years old, bright-eyed and super excited at the endless possibilities that lay in front of me. Everything seemed so big: the cars, the streets, the food portions, as well as the enormous drive for consumption. I loved every minute of my new life in America! The frantic pace of the big city fit me like a glove. I came ready to start a successful career and plunged head first into the frenzied pursuit of the American Dream. Thirty years later, the dream has become an illusion and the chimeric pursuit of happiness by achieving great success through hard work revealed itself as a sort of fool's paradise, keeping me spinning on the rat's wheel to nowhere. I asked myself: Is the pursuit of the American Dream still worth it, or does it actually lead us to a profound disconnect from our higher values and a surreptitious shut down of our hearts?

The fact is America provides opportunities that no other country can, but at what price? Politicians are asking us whether we're better off today than we were four years ago. I'd like us to ask ourselves if our quality of life and our level of fulfillment are as good as we had hoped it would be, or if instead we are letting ourselves be ruled by greed vs. goodness and compassion toward others. This national relentless drive toward material gains didn't come without major sacrifices. Don't get me wrong, I'll be the first one to admit that I enjoy life's comforts and that financial security can provide us with the freedom to pursue other interests and activities. However, when the pursuit of materialism isn't balanced with an equally strong drive to connect with our inner source of power (where true peace and happiness are found), we lose our passion for life, our hearts shut down, and life is lived halfway. By putting relentless emphasis on material gain at the expense of a more holistic lifestyle, we compromise our right to freedom and happiness on every level. This is what perpetuates the unease we feel inside, the emptiness we then desperately try to fill. Yes, we can have the nice house with the white picket fence, but we still have to face our lack of contentment.

This overachievement syndrome is clearly being reflected in our personal lives as well as in the state of our society. When is the house big enough, the bank account cushy enough, the car flashy enough for us to be satisfied and to connect on a deeper level with each other? Similarly, when are the companies' profits large enough, the country's reach and control widespread enough before we can effectively give a hand to the less fortunate ones amongst us? Awareness of others' plight, compassion toward our brothers and sisters, and willingness to understand and connect with our fellow human beings, have been replaced by a fierce attitude of self-protectionism and isolationism (what's mine is mine, stay away from it and to hell with others!) that breeds fear and feeds right into the hands of politicians who want to appear as knights in shining armor ready to protect everything we've accumulated!

The consequences of our greed are serious, but thankfully they are reversible. Excess and selfishness can't be sustained without major negative repercussions. As a country, we are globally losing traction in many areas including education, health care, and quality of our food supply. As individuals, we are losing sight of what really matters most: living a life that fulfills our material wants as well as our emotional and spiritual needs. Sometimes, we're kicked off the rat's wheel by a difficult circumstance that demands us to realign our priorities. In my case, I needed the swift and penetrating blow of a life-threatening health diagnosis to jar me out of complacency and back on a more meaningful path. I had to curb my excesses and to become aware of what was really important for me: a meaningful and loving relationship with my children, becoming more community-minded, and opening my heart to others. My American Dream didn't turn out the way I thought it would. I had the big house, the big car, the successful husband and the two children, but I was unfulfilled and still had all my issues to deal with! I dug my head in the sand as long as I could, I admit it, until the desire for freedom became stronger than my fear of change. Only by working on the inner as well as the outer paths did I reach a sustainable level of peace and happiness.

So next time a politician solicits our vote, let's ask ourselves what his message mirrors in our own lives. Is his American Dream really ours? Let's use the opportunity as a reality check on our own state of affairs. If we are truly living in the land of the free, then let's exercise the right to vote for the candidate who represents the highest values we strive for instead of the values that perpetuate greed and lack of social compassion. Let's vote with our entire being, without caving into our fears or past conditioning.

The American Dream has been permanently altered. It's time to reinvent it to reflect a more conscious state of living that encourages personal as well as collective growth.

For more by Toni Emerson, click here.

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