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NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Even with all the financial hardships many have faced in recent years, an overwhelming majority of Americans don’t just believe in the American dream, but feel they have attained it to some degree.

Some 68% of adults in this country believe they will achieve the American dream, or have already done so, according to a new survey by the Pew Charitable Trusts. Likewise, just more than 60% say they earn enough money to afford the lifestyle they want.

Yet, the vast majority of those surveyed had a negative view of their own personal finances. A mere 32% rate their finances as being excellent or good, Pew found, representing a steep drop of 23 percentage points from the start of the recession in 2007, and a decline of nine percentage points just in the last year.

In part, the researchers at Pew chalk up the discrepancy between the negative view we have of our personal finances and the overly positive view we have of the American dream to the fact that Americans are inherently optimistic about the future.

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“Even in the wake of the Great Recession, there is a strong belief that people can work hard and be successful, no matter their starting point, and their optimism remains strong,” said Erin Currier, project manager for Pew’s Economic Mobility Project.

But the data in the report also points to another reason: Our very notion of the American dream seems to have changed with the recession as well. Rather than define this dream as the desire to be “wealthy,” Pew found that those surveyed were more likely to emphasize words like “security” and “stability.” Indeed, when asked to choose whether their priority was financial stability or climbing the income ladder, 85% chose the former.

Not only are Americans learning to live within their means, we may be learning to dream within our means as well.

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