We often miss the good old days because of the tendency to complain, focus on the negative, and find excuses as to why we cannot be as happy as we used to be. In reality, the future is as good as the past, but a negative outlook can make it worse.

In other words, we miss the good old days because of our own choice to idealize our memories and focus on what we lack or dislike in the present moment.

If it’s mostly a choice (conscious or subconscious), then this is good news because it means that the world isn’t getting worse, and we can learn to appreciate it exactly like we did in the past.

Were the good old days actually better?

First of all, we have to realize that although everyone seems to complain and say that the world is getting worse and worse, this cannot be the case.

Objectively, we cannot say that the “good old days” were actually better. Subjectively, we may say so, but mostly because of our own choice (we’ll get to this in a minute).

Yes, things change and not always for the better. This doesn’t mean, however, that all changes of the last years or decades have been bad.

If the reason we miss the good old days was a natural process through which the world worsens every ten years or so, then one would assume that planet Earth is heaven gradually turning into hell.

Or the most perfect dimension turning into some sort of dystopian nightmare. You get the idea.

Another possibility would be the idea that mankind and the world in general goes through cycles of prosperity, freedom, happiness etc. and these naturally come to an end and are followed by dark times.

There is some truth in that, but again that itself cannot explain or justify why people seem to miss the good old days so much.

Why we miss the good old days

Someone’s attitude and outlook on life and the world tells you a lot about the type of life that person is going to experience.

The pessimist is destined to negativity, and the tendency to ignore the good; the optimist by contrast sees positivity and tends to ignore the bad bits.

Can we all agree that, despite good and bad luck and one’s circumstances, over which one may have little to no control over, the way you see the world shapes it?

If so, then we have found the answer to the million dollar question — the reason we miss the past so much has to do with psychology and our own thoughts and behavior.

People miss the good old days because of their tendency to complain, focus on the negative, and find excuses as to why they cannot be happy, which in turn makes life worse.

Sure, each individual’s life is different, and in some cases one may miss the past because it was actually and objectively better. That’s the exception, though, not the rule.

Happiness as a choice

Think about it: if one’s life was filled with gratitude and a sense of joy, perhaps there would be no point in complaining. Rather, one would appreciate each day and live it to the fullest.

Gratitude itself is one of the easiest ways to turn a gray life into a colorful one, and it simply comes down to a choice.

The issue with some people is the tendency to complain and most importantly to avoid the idea that each of us is responsible for their own happiness and fulfillment in life.

And complaining is draining. Not only is it not helpful, but it gradually turns everything around you into a reason to complain rather than “as it is”. See how it works?

Pessimists are the obvious example of this. A pessimist is essentially a victim of their own cognitive bias which…

  • Exaggerates the importance of negative events and fails to acknowledge the importance of positive ones
  • Sees any type of change as moving from better to worse, even when it would be from worse to better
  • Makes them blind when staring at positive things yet makes them notice negative things that are miles away

This goes on for days, months, years, decades — until one finally misses the good old days and wishes they could have a time machine.

But what’s changed isn’t the world itself (at least not significantly), but one’s outlook and ability to appreciate the good and ignore the bad, with no excuses.

Other reasons we miss the good old days

1. Idealization

All we have is the present moment; all we think and feel is thought and felt in the present. With that in mind, imagine a person who idealizes both their past and their future.

That person is going to inevitably suffer because they think the past was much better than it actually was (therefore miss it) and then expect the future to be much better than it will be (therefore be disappointed).

2. Stereotypes

Pollution. Overpopulation. New governments, laws, and restrictions. Technology taking over. Or even one’s old age. Nobody likes these things, right? Nobody likes to age, right?

The issue is that, again, we tend to always see the negative side of these things, purely because of stereotypes. Happiness does not have to decline as one gets older. Technology has pros and cons. And so on.

3. Everyone else

Copying others and following the masses generally won’t get you far. But hey, we are social beings and we tend to do what those around us do, subconsciously.

If you ever found yourself complaining and focusing on the negative, and wishing you could go back to the good old days, it may have been because everyone around you was doing the same.

4. A grain of truth

I’m not going to be naive and I’m going to end this post by saying that yes, even objectively some things used to be better. Depending on who you are and how and where you live, this can be more or less obvious to you.

However, is it sensible to only look at what’s changed for the worse? Can you not see all the changes around you that are simply wonderful?

Observe the world carefully and you’ll find that the present and the future can be literally as good as the good old days — if not better.