According to neuroscientist Peter Whybrow, head honcho of the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Behavior at UCLA the concept of the American DreamTM is a “biological impossibility.” From the Wired article:
“We’ve been taught, especially in America, that happiness will be at the end of some sort of material road, where we have lots and lots of things that we want,” said Whybrow
Our built-in dopamine-reward system makes instant gratification highly desirable, and the future difficult to balance with the present. This worked fine on the savanna, said Whybrow, but not the suburbs: We gorge on fatty foods and use credit cards to buy luxuries we can’t actually afford. And then, overworked, underslept and overdrawn, we find ourselves anxious and depressed.
This seems to be related to the newly-emerging discipline of behavioural economics, as pioneered by Richard Thaler and others. Here is a good introduction to behavioural economics on Edge.org.
Behavioural economics seem to reflect the fact that economists are coming round to the intuitively obvious idea that human beings really are not super-intelligent, near-psychopathic, wholly self-interested beings like homo economicus.