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The Good Old Days Are Happening Now

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My junior high English teacher laughed involuntarily when one of my classmates teased, “Don’t you wish you were our age again, Mr Harvey?”

He was a polite man but he laughed at her comment for a long time. “This may surprise you,” he said when he was able to speak again, “but no grownup wants to be fourteen again. I’d go back to twenty-five in a heartbeat, but not fourteen.”

My fourteen-year-old brain found it interesting that Mr Harvey did have a preferred age, and that it was somewhere between fourteen and his current age (late forties, I guessed). It meant there must be some important quality that disappears after a certain time and then you want it back.

At that age I don’t think I knew that feeling yet — of yearning for some unrecoverable quality of the past — but I was familiar with the concept. Adults seemed to refer constantly to the Good Old Days, when this or that, or everything, was better. Cars. Presidents. Music. I watched the whole run of The Wonder Years, a TV show about exactly that sentiment.

I think I even remember our valedictorian, a few years later, including in his address a famous line from Mary Schmich’s “wear sunscreen” monologue — “You will not know the power and beauty of your youth until they have faded.” I probably nodded at this remark, assuming its truth but still only able to imagine it.

As long as I can remember, fuddy old adults couldn’t stop talking about the Good Old Days. Now I am one of them, and they were right of course.

However real they are, the Good Old Days don’t refer to only one time or place. The days with the coolest cars weren’t necessarily the same days as the days with the coolest music. There were the Good Old Days of radio, the Good Old Days of network TV, and the Good Old Days when the internet was fun and frivolous and mostly unmonetized.

These eras peaked at different times, and were Good and Old to different degrees for different people. Every realm of human endeavor has its Good Old Days, some of which not everyone would swoon over, such as the heights of the Cold-War-era international chess circuit, the early Pokémon Go scene, the thrift-store vintage-hunting scene (before Ebay ruined it all), and many more. Golden eras are constantly coming and going, and that means some are happening now — they’re just harder to recognize until you feel their absence.  

What we miss about our own beloved Good Old Days isn’t so much the material things they remind us of –- wholesome 1980s sitcoms, or musty thrift-store sweaters — it’s the particular feelings those days gave us, feelings which are now impossible to experience. For example, if you campervanned along with Grateful Dead tours in the 70s, or you were into geocaching before anyone with a phone could do it, you will have experienced emotions native to those Good Old Days that are no longer possible to feel. Reminiscing might give you a whiff of it, but that time of your life, and its unique and sweet feelings, are as gone from the universe as the taste of dodo meat.

Good Old Days often sound like shared cultural experiences, but ultimately they happen on a personal level. Like many early 1980s babies I pine for the days when video games came on clunky plastic cartridges rather than streaming downloads. This is not because the games were better, but because sitting with a friend on a shaggy basement carpet playing Nintendo after school gave me a particular flavor of excitement I can never have again. Someone else my age might swoon at the mention of such a memory, but they’re remembering a different friend, a different carpeted basement, and a different Nintendo game, which together gave them a distinct emotion of their own that I will never quite know. But we can still talk about that era and its hallmarks, and reminisce in parallel.

There are thousands of extinct feelings I miss, most of which I couldn’t describe to you. You surely have your own Good Old Days longings – for the filmmaking standards of the 1980s, for Levis 501s that lasted longer than a year, for the time when extreme political views were the exception, for evenings spent blasting Nine Inch Nails in your bedroom, for Christmases when Grandma was still around and everybody came.

It’s harder to recognize Good Old Days that are still happening, but they’re always there. Looking back with fondness is almost automatic, but you can consciously turn your fondness towards things happening now that you will one day miss. I’ve long implored readers to periodically pretend the friend you’re with is actually dead and you are only remembering them, so that you can recognize the full miracle of that person now, as they speak and breathe before you, rather than only once they’re gone.

We are always living in some version of the Good Old Days. If we don’t consciously recognize the greatness that is happening now, whatever it is, we will recognize it only once it’s become a thing we can remember but no longer experience. The days when you still lived close to your best friend. The days when it was still legal for a humans to drive their own cars. The days when Radiohead was still performing live.

Most of your Good Old Days will concern small things few people would understand. The other day I did some barbell deadlifts at the gym, not having done them for two or three years, and rediscovered how strong and upright they make you feel in the days afterward. I feel it right now.

It occurred to me that this particular awesome feeling – one of many unique human feelings – will one day be off the table for me, due to age or misadventure. I don’t know if this era will last another thirty years or if I’ll slip a disc shoveling snow tomorrow, but it feels great to recognize that I am living in the Good Old Days of hoisting heavy barbells when I feel like it -– before the time comes when I can only look back on them.

***

Photo by Mi Pham

Gary March 2, 2022 at 7:59 pm

Great essay.
Carly Simon nailed it, too, a few years ago.
https://www.songfacts.com/lyrics/carly-simon/anticipation

David Cain March 3, 2022 at 9:05 am

I think that song is about me!

Lynn March 3, 2022 at 9:31 am

Clever ;)

Salisbury March 5, 2022 at 5:22 am

Oh! I was just going to quote the Jonathan Richman song “That Summer Feeling”!
“When even first grade looks good -which you hated
And you always longed for some little girl that you dated
Do you long for her, or the way you were?
That summer feeling’s gonna haunt you the rest of your life.”

Jules March 2, 2022 at 8:06 pm

I’m living the good old days right now, however, it will be short-lived. In less than a week, I’ll be moving from a city I’ve lived in for exactly 30 years. What good old days are ahead of me? I’m excited and afraid at the same time to find out. Thank you David for always reminding me to think differently and reflect with gratitude.

David Cain March 3, 2022 at 9:10 am

Wishing you a great new chapter of life. For all its unpleasantness, fear is an indicator of new feelings to come. The first days in any new place come with vivid feelings that don’t last long, and some of them will be very special I’m sure.

Tony March 2, 2022 at 8:55 pm

Hats off David. Great article. What you have written is absolutely true but it’s so strange that we forget it so often. Living can become so rewarding and more fun if we can always remember that we’re living the the good old days.

Susan March 2, 2022 at 10:59 pm

Well I have to say that at the age of 67 I am becoming very aware that I am living in the good old days right now. For example, my partner just joined me in retirement and I love our very ordinary days together relishing all the time we have right now, which we didn’t have when we were both working and which will be gone once one of us dies. Sad but true makes moments precious.

Natacha March 3, 2022 at 2:09 am

Thank you David for this beautiful article.

Victoria March 3, 2022 at 2:57 am

What a beautiful essay, made me cry, so true! At first glance I thought this article was going to be about the new Cold War, because for most of us in the 30-40s born in the Soviet union childhood was heavily about nuclear threat and here we go again)
My childhood places are getting destroyed in war now, whole towns, streets. I did not live there for the past ten years, but I did not realize how comforting was the knowledge that your street is exactly how it was, and your school, your old house. Now it’s like another pillar that supported my existence is gone, and we’re about to be so groundless as to float into space. What a terrible flaw in the human psyche is that we cannot appreciate what we have or had yesterday, it seems always that tomorrow will be happier, and maybe it will, but maybe that that lovely day last week was a peak of our existence for a long time. I feel so much guilt that I haven’t visited my mother often enough, there may not be another time already, couldn’t keep in touch with childhood friends and don’t know if they are alive. But it always seemed like there was going to be a better day for that, a better time..

David Cain March 3, 2022 at 9:15 am

I think evolution has tuned us to look outside of what we already have, because it provides a competitive advantage. But we do have the ability to cultivate real-time appreciation for those things, it just isn’t as reflexive as looking forward or backward.

ELIZABETH March 9, 2022 at 7:48 pm

Your comment brought tears to my eyes. I haven’t been to my homeplaces of growing-up in over 30 yrs–and I don’t think it has ever had to occur to me that it might be destroyed by an invader’s war. Some “Good Old Days” may really exist as realities for those whose countries have been invaded & destroyed or for whom Nuclear War was no longer a impending threat/possibility-but is now, or for whom girls’ education was permitted, but is not now–most of the people I know haven’t had that kind of contrast to make between now & our past. (hope this makes sense)

Stefano March 3, 2022 at 2:58 am

It was really a pleasure to read this particular episode, thanks for putting into words what has always been in my mind but hard to express. You do it wonderfully! Greetings from Italy :) Stefano

Christopher March 3, 2022 at 3:09 am

The micro-moments of your ‘today life’ become distant memories lost in the mists of the Universe…

Ian Lapa March 3, 2022 at 3:19 am

The best article of the year! This is almost a cliché in the bubble of self-awareness, but is quite accurate and I remember the “The Last Time Always Happens Now” article. If we don’t notice the Good Old Days among us when they are happening, turns out we can be stuck in a dangerous nostalgia in the future. I think we all have been something I called as the Nostalgia Person for some moment. At the age of 26, I noticed it happened to me mostly on the moments I was feeling anxiety for the future. The situation: you are afraid of your future and, while (not) being in the present, you miss the Good Old Days in a paralyzed way. See how it is always a question of time and perspective…

Paul March 3, 2022 at 4:39 am

I agree with every word Ian!

David Cain March 3, 2022 at 9:19 am

That’s a good point. There is an interesting conspiracy between fear of the future and yearning for the past. At the times in my life I’ve been most afraid to move forward, I yearned HARD for certain times in the past.

DiscoveredJoys March 3, 2022 at 3:19 am

I found the article thought provoking. I asked myself “What hinders us from recognising the joys of the present?”

I came to the conclusion. as yet untested, that we generally suffer from a ‘predictions treadmill’. We are so busy looking forward to the next possibility that we don’t see the now world, only a hazy future world.

I’m not sure that practicing mindfulness, or some other routine, will help other than providing a quieter mind in the present. Possibly journaling will help – although this is already retrospective. Or a Gratitude Journal.

There are all sorts of maxims to deploy – Wake Up And Smell The Coffee. Don’t Let The Perfect Be The Enemy Of The Good. Although I don’t find maxims or affirmations at all helpful.

Perhaps it is as simple as “Everything changes; everything is connected; pay attention.” (Jane Hirshfield, talking about Zen). But we humans do like to complicate things.

David Cain March 3, 2022 at 9:24 am

I don’t think anything has helped me appreciate the present more than mindfulness practice. It helps in at least two ways: it attunes you to the interesting and pleasant sensory and emotional qualities of the present, and it diminishes the habit of rumination and other reflexive past- and future-focused thinking. Just willing oneself to “be present” or repeating maxims won’t really cut it. It has to take the form of an intentional daily practicing of attentional skills (i.e. meditation).

clint March 3, 2022 at 4:19 am

Hey Thanks So Much. Always Love Your Gift of Sharing with Us.
Please Don’t Stop !

Peace and Blessings !!!

Paul March 3, 2022 at 4:35 am

This essay struck a special chord with me, David. Especially the part about your former school. This year I will turn 60 years of age and until last year the building of our high school had been standing proud in our town. The last time I went past it, the building was gone and it made me disproportional sad with a pit in my stomach; and that for a lifeless building.. Your remark to imagine an old friend being dead instead of alive, as he/she fortunately still is, made me go through my list of neglected friends and call them with a smile, or even pay a visit with small gift as a token op appreciation.

David Cain March 3, 2022 at 9:27 am

I know the feeling. A few summers ago my mother noticed our old house was up for sale so we decided to attend the open house. They had not kept up the place, and all traces of my the beautiful backyard my parents had built were gone. That backyard was huge in my life. I found it shocking.

About contemplating the death of your friends — if you haven’t yet, try the exercise at the end of this post:

https://www.raptitude.com/2020/02/how-to-create-gratitude/

Marsha March 3, 2022 at 5:38 am

Danny Michel’s song accompanied my read this morning. We’ll said, as always. Thank you, David :)

https://youtu.be/ouRLfJjyJrE

Rosie March 3, 2022 at 7:49 am

Thanks for sharing Danny Michel! Lovely!

Scott Gorham March 3, 2022 at 6:13 am

Lovely, David, just lovely. Thank you.

Liz March 3, 2022 at 7:12 am

Beautifully written. I have been a runner since I was in middle school, and when I’m having a particularly tough time motivating myself to go for a run or am in the middle of a very brutal run, I remind myself that “I don’t have to run, I get to run.” It’s not always that comforting in the moment, but I think that overall it increases my awareness that running is a privilege and reminds me not to take it for granted.

David Cain March 3, 2022 at 9:49 am

I have been very sluggish with running too, and you have inspired me. I’ll do plenty of not-running when my body is no longer capable of running.

I took a break from writing this comment to sign up for the half-marathon in June :)

[email protected] March 3, 2022 at 7:14 am

I love how you wrote about why it is important to cherish the present. We are living in great times everyday and doing wonderful things. We only view them as wonderful after we can no long do them. Living next door to my best friends in my 20s was great. But living in a house with my wife is great too. It’s just different. Our Good Old Days today are different types of good days than those of the past. But they’re both good… Or even great!

Thank you for helping us realize this.

Lucy March 3, 2022 at 7:47 am

David, this is my first comment. (I’m shy!) But I cherish your posts. This one especially resonated and made me think of Jane Kenyon’s poem otherwise: https://wordsfortheyear.com/2016/08/22/otherwise-by-jane-kenyon/

Mary-Lynn March 3, 2022 at 8:02 am

I’ve never seen that poem before – it’s wonderful – thanks for posting!

David Cain March 3, 2022 at 9:58 am

Ah what a great poem. The sentiment “It might have been otherwise” is at the heart of this post, if you haven’t read it:

https://www.raptitude.com/2020/02/how-to-create-gratitude/

Rosie March 3, 2022 at 7:51 am

Hi David – Thanks for this resonating read. You’ve given your readers a gift in this piece – the reminder and the opportunity to be present. While I think “the good old days” is in inherent to the human experience, I am sure today will be richer for taking a pause to relish and savor the “right now.” Thank you for the gift.

Mary-Lynn March 3, 2022 at 8:01 am

I love this, and have always practiced appreciation. My son is going off to university in the fall, and these two years of working from home and spending so much more time with him has been incredible. I see my husband more, we still have my mom and mother in law, I love my dog. Reminds me of that Jann Arden appreciation anthem, “Good Mother”.

And following your example, I put the internet in the basement for the long weekend and emerged realizing how often I was grabbing my phone. I’m keeping it farther away and started crocheting again.

I love this beautiful post. Thank you.

Rocky March 3, 2022 at 8:10 am

Judging by the comments, you’ve hit another homer here David!
Angst about the future causing us to long for the past seems to be universal. Real life happens only in the present.
I think this could possibly be a theme for that book I keep waiting for you to write…… many thanks!

Tara March 3, 2022 at 10:01 am

This is all so true. At the age of 56, I am now able to appreciate the best times while they are happening, knowing they won’t last. And also knowing that in retrospect, some of the smallest things end up being the biggest things in our life. Although I have been going through so much emotional pain and difficulty over the past two years, I remind myself every day with my little dog who is 3 that these are the best days, when we are both healthy and mobile. It won’t last and I need to experience it deeply while it is here.

Ken Marable March 3, 2022 at 10:08 am

I often try to think of my future self and past self as different people than my current self because, for me at least, it’s less abstract to think about trying to help FutureSelf as someone else rather than doing something now that will help me later on. Delay of gratification can be difficult, but helping some other person I won’t meet until later is much easier for me.

Similar with PastSelf who I can thank or blame for where I am now. Being the kind of person I am, it’s easier to be more forgiving of someone else’s mistakes than my own, so it’s healing to forgive PastSelf by creating that mental distance.

Another aspect of this related to this post is that I have started to do more pre-planning of nostalgia. Less physical mementos and more capturing memories and experiences. The clearest example is that a few years ago I reunited with some former co-workers to play weekly games (D&D in particular). We used to play 15-20 years ago, but I hardly remember any of that. Now, however, we decided to record our times together (easier and less awkward since we are meeting online) specifically because in 10 or 20+ years, I would absolutely love to go back and hear us again having these fun times.

Right now I’m just enjoying our time together and having fun. But I know someday I will miss this and want to experience it again. It definitely helped that this is a second wave of time together and we already feel that nostalgia about the first wave years ago and wish we had kept some better record of those times together. But, like I tell my kids, try to do something that will make future-you thank today-you.

David March 3, 2022 at 3:42 pm

Funny you mention that — just a few weeks ago I was able to get together with the same high school friends with whom I originally bought the 2nd edition D&D books, 25 years ago. We played a few sessions over zoom and it was really great. We’re older now of course, but very much the same people. While we were playing, I tried to stay aware of how great it was to be with them now, because that too will become part of the past.

Gregory MacCrone March 3, 2022 at 12:05 pm

>>Levis 501s that lasted longer than a year<<

I love this observation. I thought I remembered them lasting longer than they do these days, but I suspected that I was somehow harder on them now. Not all Levis are created equally, I understand. Ones that are available at Wal-Mart (I have read in Charles Fishman's book, "The Wal-Mart Effect") are made with shortcuts that impair their quality when compared to ones you might buy at a Levis store, etc. This is a result of the price concessions Wal-Mart extracts from its vendors. Anyway. Nice to hear that somebody else thought the same thing.

David March 3, 2022 at 3:43 pm

I buy my Levis at a local blue jeans store and while I still love them, they don’t last as long. Hole in the crotch every time after
a year.

Mike March 3, 2022 at 6:55 pm

As a child born in 1982, the Nintendo analogy was just amazing, reigniting neural pathways that I’d feared were long forgotten! Wonder Years, Grateful Dead, I raptitude regularly and comment rarely, but I just couldn’t help myself this time. Gratitude, as always, for the sharing of your thoughts. Unsurprisingly, this essay is spot on and I love your suggestion to imagine friends or loved ones as having passed on, as practice to appreciate more of what is right in front of us this very moment. Thank you David!

David March 4, 2022 at 10:08 am

Hey Mike! It’s amazing how all those neural pathways remain intact all those years. The brain must know how important all those details are.

Eric March 3, 2022 at 2:57 pm

Love this sentiment; it’s a keen reminder that always seems useful. I especially love the way Kurt Vonnegut expresses it in this short clip, well worth the time: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sn6ru7FaQns&t=36s

Melinda Rusaw March 3, 2022 at 4:01 pm

You really are wonderful! You make me want to keep trying to write when you show me why writing is good enough to brighten someone’s mind.

The Realist March 3, 2022 at 4:27 pm

I havent read in a while…..good article to come back to.

Thanks for writing it pal.

dennis March 4, 2022 at 7:33 pm

Franklin Pierce Adams: ““Nothing is more responsible for the good old days than a bad memory.”

Sean March 5, 2022 at 2:30 am

A timely reminder to get back to this way of thinking and the joy it brings. Cheers David.

Kevin March 5, 2022 at 11:21 am

It was Atari for me, but this essay took me right back to 3-4 of us gathering around to play Space Invaders.

TJ March 6, 2022 at 9:33 am

Great post David! Several years ago I realized that when people talk about “the good old days” we often (not always) refer to a time when we were much younger (maybe preteen thru young adult) – and our lives were not weighted down with the realities of adulthood: family, career, taxes, global issues, bad decisions made that have long term impact, etc. and the responsibilities that come with all of that. For instance, I look back on the 80’s as a great time (high school & college) but the reality is unemployment in the U.S. was high, interest rates were 5-6 times higher than today, extreme famine, global unrest… but all of that was completely off my radar. I didn’t think about it. Hopefully as adults we have a much larger worldview beyond ourselves, but with that comes the heaviness of life – and maybe that can help us really focus on making some “good old days” in the present.

تعمیرات سرفیس March 7, 2022 at 6:14 am

The micro-moments of your ‘today life’ become distant memories lost in the mists of the Universe…

Brady Faught March 7, 2022 at 12:55 pm

This reminds me of a previous post, is being aware of the fact that so many things are happening for the last time. This is near daily experience with my 2 year old. The last time she pronounces it ‘blanklet’ instead of blanket, or ketchup as ‘kapatch.’ There will be a last time she doesn’t want to snuggle on the couch or play trains, and realizing that has been so valuable to ensure I take it for granted, until it’s just a ‘good old days with my baby’ memory.

Brandon March 8, 2022 at 9:14 am

In the midst of my “middle years”, I have been thinking a lot about nostalgia and come to the conclusion that, for most of us most of the time, nostalgia is more-directly linked with “first experiences” than with anything else — and being in your “early years” is the biggest of all “first experiences”. In other words, the excitement and nostalgia tend to be linked to innocence and newness: the younger we are, the most exciting something new is and in turn the more nostalgic the memory will become.

This is of course not true for everyone, but it seems to be the pattern: as we age, our opportunities for experiencing the sorts of activities, those that will later turn into nostalgia, decrease.

I love the stoic idea of contemplating the future state of something you take for granted in the moment, like reflecting on the death of a loved one, but something tells me that as good as these activities are for the soul, they are not a direct replacement for the sorts of events that occur naturally, spontaneously, and without ever considering their nostalgic-potential — after all, no one sat down as a kid to play their favorite game with their pal and purposely thought about “this too shall end”; rather, we were simply obsessed and lost in the moment of newness and potential, of something that in the moment felt boundless.

As we grow into adulthood, we come to know both directly and indirectly that things are not boundless; we recognize, explicitly and implicitly, that all good things are limited in their goodness. The more we experience life, the more we recognize this truth and other similar truths — and this grows to hinder our ability to have the sorts of experiences that later become nostalgia.

This is not to say we can’t still have such experiences later in life, but it becomes more difficult. I am not sure that we can manufacture such experiences by imagining the day when we will have lost a specific moment — I do not think these are the same events, the same emotions.

Even when we experience moments later in life that will go on to become nostalgic, in my experience they are muted versions of what we experienced in our youth.

We can certainly learn to develop a better appreciation for what we have right in front of us at the moment, but something about age robs us of the ability to blissfully lose ourselves in boundless imagination and fun.

Kurt V March 10, 2022 at 7:46 pm

How much did you deadlift?

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Susan March 13, 2022 at 2:02 pm

Thank you for this. Today I am remembering the Good Old Days when I had a brother to call and share my life with, who has been gone one year today. Posts like these help me to be thankful that these are the Good Old Days that I still have my parents, and a wonderful family.

larfikan April 26, 2022 at 8:47 am

I think that not everything was so bad in the childhood of each of us. I hope it was. In childhood, it is important for every child to have a loving family and the opportunity to receive their childhood joys such as sweets, games, holidays with their parents.
Of course our parents worked hard. We have been watching this. Someone lacked a bicycle, someone had a tablet, someone had a room for two with his brother.
But I think that it is important to draw conclusions from everything and live on in order to develop yourself and improve the life of your family. Create and make the world a better place! This is what we can do with you

Alexando April 26, 2022 at 12:18 pm

Each age has its own needs. Yes, it’s good to be a child when your parents take care of you. But this is the experience that I took with me. I am grateful to my parents for raising and creating family values ​​for me. Now I have my own family. And I really want my child to have a happy childhood and that he would have the opportunity to realize himself and become a person. When I first became a father, I was a little shocked from myself :) I didn’t even know how to bathe my son! My first visit to a children’s store nearly ended up ruining my bank account. Then I got more experience. Now my oldest son is 4 years old. And recently I again became the father of a lovely daughter!
This time I was more prepared. I even looked into tips on how to design baby room decor for my daughter https://www.julieisalone.com/baby-girl-nursery-ideas/ and it helped me plan everything. It’s great when there is an opportunity to make the life of our children better and more comfortable.

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