The ideal among Americans is that life is easy as long the prescribed course of college, career, marriage, home and kids is followed. I think this expectation stems from two main factors. First there is our cultural Protestant work ethic which among other things encourages people to project their ease of success while hiding personal struggles. This alone is fairly innocuous, if not socially constructive given the whole “work ethic” main stay of the formula.
The second contributor is television. Ever since the 1950s, television has provided a constant bombardment of the easy life. Commercials are partly to blame, but their overtness prevent them from having any significant cultural impact. I think, more than anything else, sitcoms do the most to promote the “life is easy” false reality. Think about how many shows exist that feature a cast of twenty/thirty somethings living in glamorous downtown apartments and using their ample free time for wacky hijinks. “Friends” is probably the best example, but the contemporary “How I Met Your Mother” works just as well. Even shows set in a work place like “The Office” or “30 Rock” rarely display people doing actual work.
Do I think this is some nefarious plot of the networks to placate and pacify us little people? Is it time for us to grab our pitchforks and torches, and take down Neil Patrick Harris once and for all!? Of course not. The tedious challenges of everyday life would make for terrible television and is exactly what people are looking to escape from when trying to relax. I also don’t think people are completely unaware of the false standard on television. No one fully expects life to be like a sitcom. Rather I suspect that TV simply pushes the ideal life into something unrealistic, especially for those just entering adulthood.
Our cultural inclination to project success while masking personal struggles in combination with an unrealistic ideal pumped up by television creates an environment where feelings of inadequacy are easy to come by. This is why I think it’s important to remind ourselves that life isn’t easy. It’s not easy for me, it’s probably not easy for you, and odds are it’s not easy for the people around us either*.
*Except for those assholes blessed with riches, talent, and/or grace.