America as Portrayed in On Paradise Drive

On Paradise DriveI just completed reading On Paradise Drive by David Brooks which describes American culture and how we live.  I found it a great read and wanted to share some of the things I learned from reading it.  I’ll quote the book and then share my thoughts.

On consuming

  • American’s spend $40 billion on lawn care each year, more than the total tax revenues of the federal government in India.

This is ludicrous.  Americans are quite the consumer and this statistic really shows how wealthy the typical American is, not just the 1%.

  • They have become too concerned with small and vulgar pleasures, pointless one-upsmanship, and easy values.  They have become at once too permissive and too narrow, too self-indulgent and too timid.  Their lives are distracted by a buzz of trivial images by relentless hurry instead of genuine contemplation, information rather than wisdom, and a profusion of superficial choices.

Life doesn’t have to be a game show where we are quizzed on reality shows and how expensive our car was.  Take time to form your own opinion, develop a personality, and be content.

  • The magazine stand, the department store, and the mall are all arenas for fantasy.  People with money flock toward things that don’t only serve a purpose but stir the heart.  They are drawn by their imagination to move and improve and chase their fantasy visions of their own private heaven.  The cash register is a gateway to paradise.

Think of the things you have purchased and if they really gave you satisfaction.  Perhaps it would be better to spend time building memories and working towards being financially independent so you can do whatever you want.

On work

  • Thoreau published an essay … in which he protested the workaholism of American life. “There is no Sabbath.  It would be glorious to see mankind at leisure for once.  It is nothing but work, work, work.” If you spend a day alone in the woods, you are called a loafer, Thoreau lamented.

This essay was written during the Civil war and it is still true today.  In fact, a recent study found that Millenials are workaholics and shame others for taking a vacation.  We can’t even enjoy vacations without guilt anymore.

  • Americans remain the hardest-working people on the face of the earth.  We work the longest hours and take the shortest vacations of any affluent people…Those American with the most discretion over how hard to work are precisely the ones who have chosen the longest hours.  For most of human history, people at the bottom of the income ladder worked longer than people at the top.  But that’s no longer true.

This is a tough one.  You would think we would want more leisure time if we are getting paid more, but it is not happening that way.  I think finding a company which values your time is a huge benefit because otherwise you may be confined to your office for 60 hours a week.  I think your health is tied in with your work and if you are constantly under stress then your health will suffer, so choose your profession and employer wisely.

On child rearing

  • In the delivery room, the Ubermoms generally cut the umbilical cord themselves (assuming they’re not busy adjusting the video lighting) and then, focusing their attention on the delivery doctor, utter the words that mark the highest stage of Ubermomism: “So, is her Apgar score above average?”

Brooks has a section about Ubermoms and how they were a company VP before having a child and now turn their focus into perfecting their child.  I don’t have any children yet, but I think children’s childhoods are being replaced with test prep camps and iPads.


America does have a unique, hard-working culture.  Let’s try not to live solely for work and remember the other aspects of life we can enjoy.  My work situation now is great as they have been very generous to allow me to live abroad for three months.  They very much value my time and don’t expect me to work long hours or forego vacation time.  Today is Labor Day, so go enjoy the fruits of your labor and takes some time to reflect.

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