Do Americans feel like they've attained the "American Dream?"

According to a survey from East Carolina University, 68 percent of Americans agree with the statement, “Overall, I am satisfied with my life.”

A snapshot of American's views of their own life, liberty and happiness 
July 4, 2018 

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness?

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Powerful stuff, right? But do Americans feel like they’re actually experiencing the hallowed rights proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence?

More than you might think, according to a survey released by East Carolina University’s Center for Survey Research.

Inspired by the words of Thomas Jefferson, ECU professor Dr. Peter Francia wanted to know how Americans felt about their own well-being. And to Francia’s surprise, 68 percent of Americans agree with the statement “Overall, I am satisfied with my life.”

“I wasn’t stunned to know that more people feel satisfied than not, but seeing such a high percentage was notable,” said Francia. “It’s a nice thing to reflect, that despite our differences, here’s some good news.”

Interdisciplinary team designed the survey

Francia brought together a team of political scientists, sociologists, psychiatrists and public health experts to design a survey asking Americans whether or not they were achieving the quintessential American dream. The group, using a mix of survey methods (phone calls, mailers and online surveys), asked more than 1,000 Americans across a broad demographic range a series of questions.
Some examples include:

1. How satisfied overall do they feel about their life
2. If they think they will live longer than their parents
3. If they feel connected to community
4. If they feel physically or mentally limited
5. How free they feel in terms of gun rights, freedom of expression and other political issues.

Results show challenges but some agreement on partisan issue

 Of course, not every American feels satisfied. The survey shows that life satisfaction changes depending on how financially stable the person is. Only 47 percent of Americans who reported that they did not make enough to make ends meet agreed with the statement, “Overall, I am satisfied with my life.”

Another area of concern is that more than a third of respondents reported feeling mentally or physically limited. “So, there are positive things in here, and then there’s things that jump out at you that obviously need improvement,” said Francia.

The team also found areas of agreement among the political liberty section of the survey. For example, regardless of partisan divides, most (83 percent) of Americans agree that mass shootings could be avoided if restrictions were placed on gun buyers with a history of intimate partner violence or mental health issues. “It’s encouraging to me that this is an area of unity and bipartisan agreement,” said Francia. “The gun issue can be so polarizing.”

This is the first survey of its kind from ECU’s Center for Survey Research. Francia says he hopes the team will continue gathering public opinion data to add to the national conversation on public life.

 - Rossie Izlar

Rossie Izlar is the associate producer on the UNC-TV Science team.