I’d like to think that I know what I’m doing. It has not taken me long to realize that there is a wrong and a right way to do things. I have been training for the capitalistic “survival of the fittest” for as long as I can remember. As a junior in high school balancing four AP classes, extracurriculars, and SAT prep, it is now my time to shine.
Due to my newfound role as a John Mayer apologist, I have recently stumbled upon his debut album Room For Squares. While the album features top of the chart singles, my favorite song “Why Georgia” is a deep cut. In the chorus, Mayer asks me something I have not had time to think about: “Am I living it right?” For so long, I have been preparing for a happy life I can hardly imagine. I do not know where I am going, but I hope it is worth it.
As much as I would like to think that I have control over myself, my idea of a “happy” life is not up to me. It has been rooted in my ideology ever since I was born. In this day and age, happiness is comfort. Happiness is a white picket fence and a dog. Happiness is driving my kids to baseball games and soccer practices. Happiness is waking up to work for someone else’s profit. Happiness is walking the line between food stamps and a meal on the table. Happiness is hoping that what I am doing is worthwhile. Happiness is wanting to believe that I’m happy.
Such ideas are best articulated in Arthur Miller’s Death Of A Salesman. A two act play following a run of the mill working class family, Miller perfectly recognizes the draining semblance capitalism has on identity. The script contrasts the reality of the American dream with the main character’s patriotic hope for a better life. Working past his prime, main character Willy Loman works only for commission, but is not able to sell anything. The overworking is debilitating to his health, he is unable to distinguish reality from fiction, past from present. However, if he is not making as much profit as he used to, why pay him more? Seen only for his labor, Loman primarily identifies himself as a salesman, reducing his identity as a man, father, and husband. Willy’s worth is deemed in how much he works, how much profit he brings, and hence how much he adds to society. Although his job doesn’t treat him well, Willy has grand ideas of what a salesman is and represents—a prosperous noble carrying out and advertising innovations of humanity.
Never does he stop to ask if he is “living it right.”
Loman and millions of Americans are forced to accept their fate as members of the “rat race.” Working for the benefit of others, capitalism emphasizes the accumulation of profit over the lives and wellbeing of people. As pretentious as I sound, it is not like I am any better. Just this morning, my mom gave me a check for 384 dollars in order to pay for my AP tests. Last year when I got a 5 on my WHAP test, I felt the same honor Willy did as a salesman.
A cog in the system, millions of Americans have little to no decisions in their lives. Happiness is not something that one can decide for themselves, people are only a product of their surroundings. The American dream is focused on happiness through consumerism—but that simply is not the case. How much money someone has, or how many things someone owns doesn’t reflect their worth.
With steps in the right direction, citizens can move past the modern American tragedy. But not without asking themselves, “Am I living it right?”