The New Better Off – Reinventing the American Dream, as reviewed by Amy Kellestine
I was first introduced to Courtney E. Martin via Krista Tippett’s podcast, On Being. If you don’t already have this podcast in your life, please stop reading this review right now and go find it on whatever device you use. You can come and finish reading this review once the podcast is all cued up. Seriously. Go.
Intrigued and inspired by her perspective, I googled her and found her newest book “The New Better Off – Reinventing the American Dream.” In spite of the fact that I wholeheartedly identify as a Canadian, I was instantly drawn to the possibilities this book provided.
It is equal parts of history lessons, facts and analysis, and storytelling and solutions. Each chapter addresses a different aspect of our lives in North America – everything from how we work and build community, to where we live, how we celebrate, and how we share resources. Throughout Courtney invites us to contemplate and challenge how we evaluate the quality of our own life and she “paint[s] a more accurate picture of the way creative, principled, scrappy people are actually living.”
The book truly explores too many rich and wonderful topics to count including:
● The newly discovered shared economy – from tool libraries to apps like Yerdle and the true value (if any) of our possessions,
● The benefits of increasing levels of involvement of men in family caregiving roles and the disconnect between how work is structured and the demands of the rest of our lives,
● The strength of conscious communities and living arrangements from co-creative support groups to co-housing,
● The importance of consciously choosing how we spend our time amidst millions of bits and bytes of information, and
● The freedom that comes from co-opting or creating your own rituals to mark the milestones that are meaningful to you.
In the chapters on how we work, she examines how work is becoming more individualized due to the shifting sands of the economy (think telecommuting and small startups, solopreneurs and freelancers). While some of us still show up at the same office every day and talk over the water cooler with the same office-mates, there is a whole other world who gather in coworking spaces or coffee shops or pubs, creatively choosing who they work and network with, and how.
She also challenges the sanity of the 40-hour work week and explores how different organizations like Workers Lab and co-worker.org are helping to give a voice, and a chance at dignity and security, to the labour workforce.
In the chapter about “making sound financial decisions in a culture that over-values money” she explores how income correlates with other indicators like emotional, physical, and spiritual well being. Her thesis is that we are socialized to believe that more money always equals better off, but that while there are definitely advantages to earning more (ability to afford quality health care, resources to pursue hobbies, etc…) there are also drawbacks that we don’t examine. For example, a higher salary is often related to additional responsibilities and pressure. This becomes an issue when it leads to additional medication and health care to manage stress and anxiety due to overworking. What if we just approached work and consumption from a more balanced and contemplative corner?
I’m not sure if I have ever learned so much, been so entertained, and felt so connected with an author all in one book. I highly recommend it for anyone questioning the path they are on, or who is feeling stuck playing by ‘the rules’ of the game called life. This book will help you see the status-quo a little bit differently and that’s a good thing. Most of all, it gives you permission and inspiration to choose for yourself what balances the equation to add up to a quality life that was well-lived.
Amy Kellestine is an educator, engineer, Arati life coach and entrepreneur living in Edmonton, Alberta. She spends her free time camping, gardening, and volunteering for causes such as Cystic Fibrosis and nature conservation. She is a devoted mother, who is passionate about helping others and writing.