The Happiness Project

Were People Happier in the Good Old Days?

One habit of mind that I do not have—and which I think does not contribute much to happiness—is the tendency to regret the passing of “the good old days.”

This way of thinking is partly related to age, but not completely. I know many people, quite young, who say things like “People are so much more materialistic than they used to be” or so much more narcissistic, or so much more self-indulgent, or so much less engaged with other people, etc.

Well, maybe so, could be. But I’m skeptical of generalizations like that. For thousands of years, people have been decrying the present and pointing to a more noble past.

For example, take this sentiment: ” It is strange that there should be so little reading in the world, and so much writing. People in general do not willingly read, if they can have any thing else to amuse them. ” Sounds very current, right? I read someone express exactly this sentiment on Twitter about 30 minutes ago.

So when was it said? In 1783. Richard Burke, to Samuel Johnson.

* The New York Times now has its own happiness blog: Happy Days: The Pursuit of What Matters in Troubled Times . Happy minds think alike.

* There’s a lot of interesting debate on the Facebook Page . Join the discussion!