Stop Pining for the ‘Good Old Days’

Cars line the streets waiting to fill up at Merit Gas in North Quincy, Massachusetts, during a gas shortage, June 16, 1979. (Photo by David L. Ryan/Boston Globe/Getty Images)

“Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.”—Marcel Proust

Nostalgia, a term that originated as a medical diagnosis for Swiss mercenaries suffering from homesickness, is the sorrowful longing for a lost past. An April Pew survey found that nearly 6 out of 10 Americans (58 percent) think the country was better off for people like them 50 years ago. For Republican and Republican-leaning respondents, nostalgia for the early 1970s reached 72 percent. 

This is bad—but not for the reasons you might think. First, some context. In 1939, Gallup found that 62 percent of Americans thought people were better off in the horse-and-buggy era (though only 25 percent said they’d actually want to live then). 

Indeed, Americans have always had a thing for the “good old days.” The problem is that what—or when—constitutes the “good old days” is a constantly moving target. It often seems to be about five decades earlier from right now. 

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