US Economy

Americans are living the dream, but not loving it

The real American dream: More stuff
The real American dream: More stuff

A new survey shows most Americans feel they aren't living the American dream, despite being wealthier and more educated than ever.

The study, conducted by the marketing firm DDB, found that only 40 percent of American adults believed they were living the dream.

However, 66 percent of Americans owned a home, 78 percent received a good education, and 74 percent said they've found a decent job—all widely believed to be part of the American dream.

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The disconnect may be because achieving and maintaining the American dream have become so difficult that people are not enjoying it, said Mosche Cohen, former professor at Columbia Business School.

People are trying to "shoehorn themselves into this concept of the American dream, and they are losing the freedoms it's supposed to provide," he said in an interview with CNBC's "Power Lunch."

Marianna Massey | Digital Vision | Getty Images

Americans may work hard in school, get a good job, marry, and buy a home, but fast-forward a few years and they may find themselves with children, living in a home that is now too small, clinging to a job they don't love anymore, and living paycheck to paycheck.

"They're living the dream, but they're not loving it anymore," Cohen said.

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According to Diana Elliott from Pew Charitable Trusts, which conducts similar studies, achieving the American Dream comes down to financial security and wealth.

"Americans are not feeling as [financially] secure as perhaps they were before the Great Recession," she said. "The American dream is really about having a little bit extra at the end of the month and being able to springboard … your children into the future."

Redefining the American Dream
Redefining the American Dream

Of those polled in the DDB study, 81 percent believed they would be able to give their children a better life than they had.

"Americans hold great hope for their children and the prospects for their children and the future," Elliott said. "If you ask the question of Americans what they think children in general would experience, it would be very different from what people believe their own children will experience."

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Cohen said part of being American is always striving for more. However, he believes it's important to pause and recognize that progress is being made.

"You take a step back and you say things are getting better. Are they enough? Never, because life is about growing higher and higher, but things are getting better," he said.

—By CNBC's Michelle Fox