Americans Are Dissatisfied

“In America I saw the freest and more enlightened men placed in the happiest circumstances that the world affords; it seemed to me as if a cloud habitually hung upon their brow, and I thought them serious and almost sad, even in their pleasures. The chief reason for this contrast is that [the poor] do not think of the ills they endure, while the [well-to-do] are forever brooding over advantages they do not possess. It is strange to see with what feverish ardor the Americans pursue their own welfare, and to watch the vague dread that constantly torments them lest they should not have chosen the shortest path which may lead do it.”

-Alexis de Tocqueville, “Democracy in America” (1835), translation from French by Thomas Bender

Dr. Ballenger pointed out this quote in Honors 5, and it struck a chord with me. I don’t have enough worldly experience to compare our attitude to other countries, but from what I’ve seen, this is true. Americans are ridiculous. We have to be the best all of the time, and if we’re not, it’s the end of the world. When I went to Scotland, my friends were thrilled to get Bs. At times, they aimed for Cs and jumped for joy when their work was assuredly average. It baffled me that it’d be so difficult to get the 70% needed for an A, but it was. As a student accustomed to getting grades over 90%, it was weird to be excited about a 71%. My friend Carla commented one day that Americans are excessively happy….until we’re not. Then, the entire world falls apart. I’ve seen it in my friends as well as in myself. I’ve spent weeks writing songs and trying to squeeze something profound out of my brain because this credo has to be good. If it’s not good, I might die. If I don’t pass, I’m sure a meteor will fall from the heavens, burst through my roof, and knock me into the afterlife. I’ve watched one of my roommates have a literal nervous breakdown over a paper. I’ve watched another actively killing herself because of her physical imperfections. There’s nothing wrong with having high standards, but I fear things are getting borderline unrealistic. My mother taught kindergarten for over 30 years and watched her curriculum slowly turn from working on developing motor skills and social skills to trying to teach every child to read. Naptime turned into silent reading time. The only reason there’s still time to play outside is because apparently the only thing worse than being stupid is being fat. We need to chill out. It’s okay to be imperfect. Second is still good. There are some people in the world who don’t even have food and we’re sitting here freaking out because Taco Bell gave us the wrong burrito. There are people without shelter and we’re making a scene over a crack in our window. I’m pretty sure our priorities are skewed. I wouldn’t go full-on Peter Singer and demand that everyone shut up and send all of their money to charity, but can we at least work on being happy with what we have?

(I made a video piece with Jon Van Hoff based on the quote seen above. Please watch it here.)

Note: Right/option click titles to download tracks.

Americans Are Dissatisfied (Because Life Isn’t Rainbows and Happiness All The time

G C
Americans are unsatisfied
G C
Because life isn’t rainbows and happiness all the time

G
We’re comfortable and free
C
Believe what we believe
G
So please explain to me
C
Why I make such a scene

G
Because I’ve never been poor
G
Never been oppressed before
C
So when something ain’t right
C
It’s the end of the world
G
Because I wanna be the best
G
And life’s a contest
C
And I gotta win
D
I don’t know where to begin

G C
My friend Carla says Americans are always smiling
G C
Because we have to be happy all the time

G
I’ve seen best friends breaking down
C
Worlds turned upside-down
G
When perfection ain’t around
C
And you’re sinking into the ground
G
Life’s not like our movies
C
There’s lies on the silver screen
G
Sometimes there aren’t happy endings
C
It’s a nightmare, not a dream
G
But it’s okay to fail once or twice
C
Struggle with a favorite vice
G
You’re only human
C
And you can learn from it

G C
Americans are ridiculous

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