I have to tell you the Independence Day is one of my favorite holidays. It is a holiday that is uniquely American and it reminds us of our heritage as the greatest nation in the history of this planet.
It all starts with this simple yet unique statement in the preamble to the Declaration of Independence.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Prior to this document, there had never been a nation on Earth where the citizen was sovereign, and the rights of the government were restrained by the foundational framework of the new nation.
This individual sovereignty and the rights of the individual being protected form the government is still alive today. The article below mentions a portion of how that uniqueness has come to manifest itself in our culture.
By Nicki Lisa Cole, Ph.D.
The results are in. We now have sociological data about the values, beliefs, and attitudes that make Americans unique when compared with people from other nations—especially those from other rich nations. The Pew Research Center’s 2014 Global Attitudes Survey found that Americans have a stronger belief in the power of the individual. Compared to residents of other nations, Americans are more likely to believe that hard work will lead to success. Americans also tend to be much more optimistic and religious than people in other rich nations.
What Makes Americans Unique?
Sociological data from the Pew Research Center suggests that Americans differ from residents of other nations in their individualism and their belief in hard work to get ahead. Moreover, compared to other wealthy nations, Americans are also more religious and optimistic.
A Stronger Belief in the Power of the Individual
Pew found, after surveying people in 44 nations around the world, that Americans believe, far more than others, that we control our own success in life. Others around the world are far more likely to believe that forces outside one’s control determine the level of one’s success.
Pew determined this by asking people whether they agreed or disagreed with the following statement: “Success in life is pretty much determined by forces outside our control.” While the global median was 38 percent of respondents disagreeing with the statement, more than half of Americans—57 percent—disagreed with it. This means that most Americans believe that success is determined by ourselves, rather than outside forces.
Pew suggests that this finding means that Americans stand out on individualism, which makes sense. This result signals that we believe more in the power of ourselves as individuals to shape our own life than we believe that outside forces shape us. The majority of Americans believe that success is up to us, which means we believe in the promise and possibility of success. This belief is, in essence, the American Dream: a dream rooted in the belief in the power of the individual.
That Old “Pull Yourself up by Your Bootstraps” Mantra
Connected to this belief in the power of the individual, Americans are also more likely to believe that it is very important to work hard to get ahead in life. Nearly three-quarters of Americans believe this, whereas just 60 percent do in the United Kingdom, and 49 percent do in Germany. The global mean is 50 percent, so residents of other nations also believe this too—just not to the same extent as Americans.
The Most Optimistic Among Rich Nations
Interestingly, the U.S. is also far more optimistic than other rich nations, with 41 percent saying they were having a particularly good day. No other rich nations even came close. Second to the U.S. was the U.K., where just 27 percent—that’s less than a third—felt the same way.
It makes sense that people who believe in the power of themselves as individuals to achieve success by hard work and determination would also show this kind of optimism. If you see your days as full of promise for future success, then it follows that you would consider them “good” days. In the U.S. we also receive and perpetuate the message, quite consistently, that positive thinking is a necessary component of achieving success.
An Unusual Combination of National Wealth and Religiosity
The 2014 Global Values Survey reaffirmed another well-established trend: the richer a nation is, in terms of GDP per capita, the less religious is its population. Around the world, the poorest nations have the highest levels of religiosity, and the wealthiest nations, like Britain, Germany, Canada, and Australia, the lowest. Those four nations are all clustered around a $40,000 GDP per capita, and approximately 20 percent of the population claims that religion is an important part of their life. Conversely, the poorest nations, including Pakistan, Senegal, Kenya, and the Philippines, among others, are the most religious, with nearly all members of their populations claiming religion as an important part of their lives.
This is why it is unusual that in the U.S., the nation with the highest GDP per capita among those measured, more than half of the adult population says that religion is an important part of their lives. That’s a 30 percentage point difference over other rich nations, and puts us on par with nations that have a per capita GDP of less than $20,000.
This difference between the U.S. and other rich nations seems to be connected to another—that Americans are also far more likely to say that belief in God is a prerequisite for morality. In other rich nations like Australia and France this figure is far lower (23 and 15 percent respectively), where most people do not conflate theism with morality.