Getting rich isn't the American Dream anymore, says new survey—here's how people define success instead

Happy couple planning and designing their future home
Ippei Naoi | Moment | Getty Images

The "American Dream" has long been equated with economic achievement and wealth.

But these days, amid high levels of inflation and nationwide consumer debt, getting rich feels harder to achieve than ever — leading Americans to develop a new definition of success.

That's according to a recent GoDaddy survey, which asked more than 1,000 U.S. small-business owners to describe what achieving the American Dream entails, to them. Fifty-four percent of respondents defined it as "feeling happy in life," and 49% said it involved "freedom to follow my passions."

Fifty-six percent still cited wealth as a motivator, saying they wanted to make enough money to live "a comfortable lifestyle." But roughly three-quarters of the respondents said their definition has changed since they were a kid.

Owning a home, historically seen as a marker of success, was only the fourth-most popular answer, at 45%.

"The American Dream is changing, according to small-business owners," Fara Howard, GoDaddy's chief marketing officer, tells CNBC Make It. "Economic conditions have resulted in homeownership being less attainable, particularly for members of Gen Z, while the pandemic and the Great Resignation have driven many to prize being their own boss and gaining more freedom, comfort and flexibility."

Small-business owners are often considered a litmus test for the American Dream, as some entrepreneurs see startups as an opportunity to climb the socioeconomic ladder.

Many of today's small-business owners are also millennials and Gen Zers — demographic groups that have become increasingly more vocal about living life on their own terms, in recent years.

Almost a quarter (24.7%) of millennials say they plan to rent forever, due to the "exceedingly expensive" cost of homeownership, according to recent survey data from Apartment List. That figure has doubled since 2010, up from 13%.

Trends like "quiet quitting" and "the big quit" have also empowered some Americans to push for more control in their professional lives, like advocating for flexible work arrangements and more down time.

Despite new definitions of the American Dream, survey respondents said that lack of access to technology, education and affordable health care still stand as barriers. But 62% are "very confident" that they'll achieve their goals within their lifetimes.

"American small-business owners are thinking beyond revenue and sales growth when they consider what the American Dream means to them," Howard said in a statement last week. "Today, it's more about feeling a sense of belonging, freedom, happiness and work-life balance."

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