Category Archives: Personal Development

A Phone Free Day Every Month

The last time you picked up your phone…

Did you intend to look at your phone at that specific time?

What prompted you to look at your phone?

How long did you end up looking at your phone?

Did you stick to the original purpose, or open up another app?

Did you get value out of the time you spent on your phone?

Did your decision to look at your phone cost you other opportunities?

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Having observed what many others have observed, regarding excessive smart phone use, and its potential link to poor mental health outcomes, I recently decided I needed to build a periodic mini digital detox into my life. One year ago, I decided to go without my phone the first Sunday of every month.

I figured that periodically going a day without my phone would help me become more mindful of how I use my phone, and reconnect me with how I would go about doing certain things in the pre-smart phone era. Maybe it would even give me some clues as to how smart phone use is actually impacting our society as a whole.

Since then, awareness of the impact smart phones are having on our lives has only increased. Apple added a feature to the iPhone that tracks and gives users the ability to limit their smart phone use.

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By the way, here is proof that I actually did shut my phone off for the day on Sunday.

Others have even resorted to creative ways to encourage less phone use. One hotel in Sweden began charging guests by how much time they spend on social media. Rooms at Hotel Bellora are being offered to guests for free if they can refrain from using their phones!

After experiencing twelve of these phone free First Sundays, I have concluded that…

1. It is not realistic, nor does it seem beneficial, for us to completely ditch smart phones.

There are some conveniences, such as using Google Maps to look at traffic, that are a significant benefit.

2. All smart phone use can’t be painted in one light.

Picking up a phone has different utility when used for different purposes. I am actually not too ashamed that I spend a significant amount of time on YouTube. Much of the content is either informational or provides entertainment value, which is value.

3.  The setting needs to also be considered.

What had originally prompted me to become concerned about smart phones is observing them having a negative impact on people’s experiences. Watching someone pull out their phone when I am trying to have a conversation with them frustrates me. I also see people miss out on what is going on around them because of their phones. However, what if someone is just sitting at home alone, or on the same bus they take to work every day, exhausted and just needing some entertainment?

4. Smart phone use needs to serve a purpose.

If we intended to look someone up on Wikipedia, reference traffic on Google Maps, or even entertain ourselves with videos or games, that is fine. This is why, even after this experience, I still don’t believe in blanket statements such as “less than two hours per day”. It is more appropriate to say we should pick up our phones for an intended purpose, and put them down when that intended purpose is done, whatever length of time that is.

5. It is hard to stop using our phones as a crutch.

I’m talking about those times when we are waiting in line, or when we arrive at a restaurant ten minutes before our friends. We can either face the fear of boredom and/or awkwardness or bury ourselves in our phones. After each First Sunday, I resolve to stop picking up my phone in these instances. I’m typically able to do so for about five days.

Every time we engage with our phones, we disengage with the world around us.

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We may be missing out o some important things; That person that would have started a conversation with us had we not looked needlessly occupied. Observing what is happening around us, in the natural world. Even the ability for us to engage our own thought processes. These are real costs that make it worthwhile for us to be more intentional with the use of our smart phones. Taking a day off from phone use once a month reminds me of the times I typically pull out my phone, and what I could be missing out on when I do.

 

That Event You Always Find Yourself At

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We all have that one event in our lives. Typically it is somewhere in the general vicinity of where we live, but not in the same town. Year after year, we find ourselves there, despite never actually making plans around that event. For me, that event is the International Snow Sculpture Championships in Breckenridge Colorado.

I’ve been there while on weeklong ski trips with friends from the East Coast, staying at condos within walking distance of both the Riverwalk Center where the event is held and the ski lift.

I have been there on weekend trips, as was the case this year.

I have been there after day trips.

There have even been years where I was able to see the snow sculptures on multiple days, and while passing through town on the way home from destinations further away.

Of course, it helps that the event lasts ten days, right in the middle of the winter, in Breckenridge, one of the country’s most iconic skiing towns.

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It also helps that walking through the snow sculptures is not a huge time commitment. Even if one were to read every piece of information about each individual piece, the total time commitment would be well under an hour.

2019 was quite iconic. The event happened on an excellent weekend. Significant snow fell Thursday night, making for a fantastic weekend of skiing. Each portion of the day seemed to exude some form of picturesque natural scene, distinct from one another!

The sculptures themselves were amazing as well. Here are some of my favorites from 2019.

2017 was also a great year, with a lot of animal related designs.

2016 was also a great year.

2015 was the year that abnormally warm weather (several days with highs close to 50 in town) caused some of the sculptures to become deformed.

This year, the trip that found me in front of the snow sculptures was a weekend trip to Frisco, ten miles north of Breckenridge, and along I-70.

I love to stay in Frisco from time to time. There are a lot of amenities, but it is less crowded than many other places in winter, as there is no ski resort there. However, it is within about ten miles of Breckenridge, as well as several other mountain resorts, including Copper Mountain and Keystone.

The places we go, the people we see, and the activities we take part in have two origins. One are those in which we actively seek; the trips and activities we plan and the people we plan them with. The others are the ones we somehow get drawn into. The places our friends, family and co-workers chose for group activities. The people that show up at the events we go to. Events like this one, that always end up being where we are at the time we are there.

Some would advocate that we do all things with purpose, actively choosing every single action in our lives. That is quite exhausting, and nearly impossible. Instead, we must accept that some of the places we find ourselves and people we find ourselves around will be based on circumstance, and sometimes that circumstance will occur in repetition.

However, the nature of these circumstantial encounters is a good indicator of how well we have aligned our lives with our values and desires. If these circumstances habitually find us in places we do not want to be and around people we do not care to be around, it is an indicator that something about our overall situation is not well aligned with our true selves and true desires.

I am thankful to find myself around these snow sculptures year after year. They are a result of the activity that I did actively chose, skiing, as well as being around people who are up for wandering around to events like these.

What I learned in 2018

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As I outlined in my previous post, 2018 ended up being a pretty significant year for me, I started a new job in August which ended a nearly seven year long series of career disappointments. Through this experience, as well as observing people in organizations like TED and Start-Up week, and reading books, I have learned quite a bit.

1. The first wave is Internal

This is something I first read about in 2016, when I read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. We often get this wrong. People who are stuck are often waiting on someone else, or some kind of external event to bring their lives in a new direction. I feel like I was there for quite some time. Change must come first from within.

After changing my attitude, actions and expectations, I then needed to reflect those changes out to the world. This concept is best described in Belong, by Rhada Agrawal. When we show our true selves to the world, we eventually find ourselves in the right places and surrounded by the right people.

2. Maturity = Confidence + Resilience + Delayed Gratification

People are often told they need to “grow up”. For a long time, it was a pet peeve of mine. It felt as if anyone who had told me this was expecting me to give up on dreams, give up on what makes me unique, and accept limitations and the ability for others to determine my path.

As a result, for many years, I resisted the very concept of adulthood. I would rather stay in my fresh out of college partying days longer than become a generic middle-aged guy. However, I would later get exposure to mature adults who were living lives that I admire quite a bit.

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In addition to the authors mentioned above, I got exposed to authors and TED speakers such as Simon Sinek, Chris Gillebeau, and Jen Sincero, as well as many others in the local community who are doing great, interesting, and unique things with their lives.

I also saw the result of continued immaturity, primarily the political hysteria of our time.

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This was not what I wanted. I realized that I do want maturity, just defined differently, by what I would say is its true definition. The factors that distinguish the two groups of people I observed are not the mundane everyday things that most associate with “growing up”. They are confidence, resilience, and some form of long-term thinking.

3. There’s a time to be chill and a time to be ill

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Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life is perhaps one of the most challenging books I have ever read. It forced me to confront the fact that status and power struggles do exist in humanity. This is something that, for a long time, I had hoped to just ignore. Unfortunately, a lot of people do care about status, and there are people who want nothing more than to have power over others.

This is where we all need to assert ourselves when necessary. In my previous entry, I outline a bit about who I am and what I care about. There are a lot of people that want to define, or redefine that for me. We all face that same struggle. Nobody else should get to chose things like that for us, and when they try to, we need to calmly assert ourselves.

4. Not all escapism is a waste of time

This is something I feel truly bad about. For a long time, I was quite judgmental towards activities I deemed to have no value. This was primarily certain television shows, but sometimes even certain kinds of conversations and activities. As Pitbull put it years back “Everybody’s Going Through Something”. While it is irresponsible to completely avoid our problems, people do need a break from them from time to time. It was unfair of me to judge people based on how this break manifests. There is a big difference between becoming a drug addict and watching something like Say Yes to the Dress for half an hour.

5. Don’t avoid uncomfortable conversations

When uncomfortable conversations are avoided, the problems that prompted them only become worse. Towards the end of 2018, I had to have a few conversations that I found uncomfortable. They certainly did not make anything worse!

6. Sometimes our adversaries are people we need

I am someone that likes to push boundaries, try new things, and pursue ideas. There are people that are more cautious, preferring to stick to routine and only embracing change when it is absolutely necessary or when the benefits are clear. It is easy for me to view these people as my adversaries and visa-versa.

However, without people to vet ideas before a lot of resources are poured into them, a lot of time and money could be wasted, with little to show for it. Without people on my end of the spectrum, to pursue new ideas and push people, stagnation is inevitable. We need each other.

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Life is full of balances just like this one; idealism vs. realism, optimism vs. pessimism, big picture vs. details, etc. With respect to all of those balances, those that prefer one end of the spectrum need those on the other end to maintain that balance.

7. Laying around is not always the best way to rest

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It is certainly the most obvious way to rest. However, it is often not what we need when we feel we need rest. When exhausted from stress, what we need is to get away from whatever is causing that stress. This is often not achieved by laying around at home, which can mean continued exposure to news and other sources of stress through television and social media. The best form of rest can often mean something like camping in the wilderness, going or a bike ride, or the right social event with the right group of people.

My 2018 End of the Year Note

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It feels strange to be writing another entry that is not about travel. I did travel this holiday season, back to Chicago, but the primary purpose of the trip was to visit family, not to explore new places.

I have also already written about both visiting places I have previously lived and about New Years as a time of reflection. Now that I feel more grown-up, I want to provide what other serious individuals provide, a year-end summary.

2018 in Review

I will always yearn for travel and adventure. However, 2018 took my attention in other directions. The year started with some major trips, including Vegas, Whistler, and Death Valley.

After those trips, I really needed to get my career back on track. The five years prior to this one had seen tons of great adventures, which I catalog on this blog. However, they had not been too great for my career. We all have to earn a living, and it can be hard having to do so in places that are not the right fit.

At first I was going about it in the manner that most do in 2018, looking for opportunities online. By springtime, I decided that getting out there, networking, and meeting people would be a better way to try to create something new in my life.

I ended up catching a break. In August, I started a new job which is both in the field I had originally studied, meteorology, and provides a working environment that is both flexible and collaborative. Not too many people can travel for a living, and not too many people actually want that lifestyle. Having a job where the work itself is fulfilling, and is also flexible enough that I can pursue significant travel and adventure, is probably the best scenario I could have hoped for. Therefore, I can say 2018 was a hard year but also a great one!

Before starting that job, I did go on one more major road trip, in Early August.

Since then, my life has actually been quite busy. In addition to starting a new job with a significant commute…

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I continued some of the freelance work I had been doing prior to starting the job, as well as some of my involvements in professional organizations. There were some weeks, particularly in September and October, where there was very little spare time. I came into the holiday season quite exhausted!

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2019 and a New Sense of Self

In addition to getting my career back on track, I feel that I am coming out of this exhausting but fruitful year with a better sense of who I am than I have had for years. A lot of people talk about “discovering themselves”. I feel this is an appropriate, yet sad, way of putting it. What I “discovered” about myself is stuff that I had known all along. I had just lost sight of them because of some of the disappointments and negative feedback I had received at various points in my life.

I determined I loved weather and science by the time I was five years old. It didn’t take much longer for me to figure out what else makes me who I am.

I often do not match what people expect from me. A lot of people think they understand the world, and the people in it, based on rudimentary aspects of who someone is; race, age, gender, economic status, and partisan politics. It saddens me to see people placing more, not less, emphasis on theses things in the past few years. This is one component of today’s world I refuse to be a part of or encourage, as who someone is is more about what they value and how they treat people.

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For the first time in my life, I actually feel like I am in a position to help people, as opposed to being the one that needs help. With this spirit, as well as my new job and other engagements, I want to encourage the following in the world around me:

  • Bridging the worlds of science and enterprise. I believe this is the best manner in which we can bring the benefits of scientific research and scientific knowledge to the general public, in a manner that is fair and equitable.
  • Encouraging people to spend less time alone, indoors, and seated. There are a lot of mental and physical health problems in my country that are only getting worse thanks to things like people spending more time in front of screens and less time conversing with one another.
  • Creating a more flexible world, particularly in the workplace. This means removing outdated rules and assumptions which are costing many people the opportunity to be who they really are.

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This may not be what some people desire of me, but it is my life. These pursuits were determined by matching my interests, values, and expertise with a desire to improve the condition of humanity.

I personally learned a lot more about life the year, which I will cover in my next entry. In addition to traveling and exploring less towards the end of 2018, a few other areas of my life also ended up getting neglected, particularly my physical health and social life. While going to an event with a professional organization can be enjoyable and productive, I have realized that it is no substitute for taking part in activities with friends. As I start 2019, I plan to place a higher priority on…

  • Physical health and particularly getting active and moving
  • Creating and nurturing some kind of a community
  • Expressing myself, and my unique-ness at all times
  • Finding new activities, new restaurants, new ideas, and exploring new places

Thank you for reading- hope you all have great plans for 2019!

A Christmastime Message

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Christmas, and the Christmas season, is quite easy to understand as a child…

Time off of school

Family gatherings

Fun lights, decorations, parades and movies

And, of course, Santa Clause coming and bringing toys

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Maturity complicates things. For many, there is a lot of work to do, work that is not related to Christmas; shopping, decorating, cooking, event planning, etc. In college, the Christmas season often means the end of a semester, with final projects and preparations for final exams. In many work environments, end of the year projects and the rush to meet annual goals can create a busy month. Unfortunately, this stress can sometimes make it hard for many adults to actually enjoy activities like baking and putting up Christmas decorations. These activities, which were meant to be joyous, end up just creating more stress.

Another complicating factor is the nature of what it is we desire at different ages. What most kids want is something that Santa can bring down a chimney, or what a parent, friend or relative can wrap up into a box. What most adults truly yearn for is something that cannot be found at a shopping mall, or even on Amazon. True love, self-respect, acceptance, community, and many of the things mature people need for a truly fulfilling life, but often lack, cannot be achieved over the course of one day, or even one season.

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Then, for those who are fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to be of the more intellectual persuasion, there are all the questions and observations.

Should non-Christians even be celebrating Christmas?

Is Christmas even really a Christian holiday? Given its dubious historic roots, and current manifestation as largely secular and materialistic.

Is there too much materialism in the holiday?

What does it mean to be in the “Christmas Spirit?”

Does all the talk of snow in Christmas music make it too biased against those who live in the tropics or the Southern Hemisphere?

What would happen if someone crashed a Christmas Party, and interrupted “Let it Snow”, with the Lil’ Wayne & Fat Joe Song “I’ll Make it Rain”, while yelling “Climate Change”?

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It is also possible to observe people for whom Christmas is not a great time of year. People with truly dysfunctional families (beyond just different political views) may dread the holidays, and for people with no family at all, it can be a time of intense sadness.

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There are probably a lot of lonely adults wondering how a season that once brought them much joy has now become one of indifference, stress, or even worse, sadness. What is it that can be done this Christmas Season to create a more positive outcome?

There are three natural instincts regarding where to begin talking about the meaning of Christmas for adults.

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The first is to talk about the Christmas Spirit; compassion, generosity, warmth and understanding. There are, of course, reasons this is a good thing, but anyone who has gone through a truly tough time in their lives knows that not everyone has the capacity to be in this spirit at all times. The Human Spirit can change with circumstance and environment regardless of season.

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The next is to roll it up with New Years, into some kind of a prolonged period of self-reflection, where the events of one year are process and the goals and themes of the coming year are considered. Of course, it is quite self-evident how effective this is, given how few New Years resolutions are actually kept.

Then there is the cycle of life that is the seasons, with the Christmas season being the beginning of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. There is historical precedence for cycles of holidays or festivals that roughly match the start and end (and sometimes the mid-points) of each of the four seasons. For some, Christmas serves as an exciting start to an exciting season, while for others, it softens the blow of entering a difficult season.

The primary common thread regarding the reasons people value Christmas relates to taking a break from the normal progression of events.

Even those who truly love their jobs need to periodically take a break. While some jobs have prolonged time off, like summers for teachers, for most, Christmas represents the longest break period of the year. For some, it’s a time to rest. For some it’s a time to party. For others, it is a time to just slow down, stop, and observe the true beauty of their surroundings. Most importantly, regardless of whether someone’s circumstances in their regular day-to-day lives are fortunate or unfortunate, it is a chance to regroup, and focus on something else for a change of pace.

 

Fall Camping at Cottonwood Lake

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This fall has been one of the most exhausting periods of my life in a long time. There is a reason I am writing this blog, in early November, over a month after this experience. Life is rarely constant. Sometime we are up, sometimes we are down. Sometimes we are comfortable and sometimes we feel everything is spiraling out of control. There are also periods that are slower and periods that are busier.

Exhaustion often has a variety of sources. Sometimes it does happen simply because someone is doing too much. However, I have seen tons of people who are extremely busy manage to have what appeared like really good energy levels. I have also seen people with little on their schedule appear extremely exhausted.

At this current moment in time, both personally, and throughout my country, there are other sources of exhaustion that are quite prevalent. Our news is often sensationalized and our political climate is downright toxic. We also have yet to incorporate new technologies into our lives in a healthy manner, leading to large-scale mental health issues which are beginning to manifest in horrible ways.

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The amount of time we spend in front of screens continues to increase. It is now over 11 hours per day. This has caused people to interact less and less with one another, leading to loneliness. The number of people who said they have nobody in which to confide in, about deeply troubling personal matters, has tripled in the last three decades.

I may have personally created additional exhaustion, in my life specifically, by taking on more work and over-doing some other endeavors. Seriously, I had no idea those tomatoes would grow so well!

When exhausted, we often have the instinct to stay home, rest, do nothing for a while. However, this is not always the best course of action. In my case, it would not have removed me from some of the sources of stress and exhaustion. How often, in today’s culture, does “resting”, really mean watching something on television, while also scrolling through news and social media on our phones. This form of “resting” still involves some amount of mental energy being dedicated to the very things that are causing many of us stress, which appear in the news, on social media and frequently on the television as well.

Sometimes, it is far better to power through the exhaustion for a little bit in order to get away from all this.

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Going camping takes work. It requires preparing meals, gathering supplies, picking out a location, traveling there, then setting up camp and building a fire. This is far more effort than it takes to turn the television on, or grab a smart phone while laying in bed. However, there is far more reward: actual relaxation.

Cottonwood Lake is about ten miles west of Buena Vista, Colorado, right in the center of the state, in the San Isabel National Forest.

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The campsite we found, a couple of miles further up the road, turned out to be one of the greatest places ever for viewing fall colors in the Rocky Mountains in Late September.

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It was amazing not only to see the colors at this one particular spot a couple miles west of Cottonwood Lake, but to see them at all different times of the day. In particular, at times around sunrise and sunset, the orange color in many of the leaves appeared deeper, and even more vibrant and colorful!

Most importantly, after finding the ideal camping site, getting the tent set up, starting the fire, and cooking dinner, the experience was far more relaxing than anything I would have done at home.

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Despite the full moon, I was able to get to sleep not too long after 9 P.M. With no lights, televisions, or random noises interrupting, it felt like I slept off all the exhaustion of the previous weeks. With the feeling of being rested, and my mind completely disconnected from all the stresses of back home, the return trip felt even more beautiful.

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It was like some kind of opening of the mind was needed to fully take in what was in front of me.

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The life I returned to was not too different. I still have the same ambitions. Smart phones did not become any less addicting, and world news and politics did not become any less depressing. We can escape from our lives, but we cannot escape forever.

Plus, it is not always bad. People that are busy, and even sometimes exhausted, can also be happy, if their mind is on the right things and they find themselves in the right environment. Sometimes it is the ones that are idle, not having all the experiences life has to offer, trapped in fear and “analysis paralysis”, that are the most prone to depression.

More importantly, all activities have busier and calmer periods. Jobs have busier and calmer periods, and there is not too much for me to do in the garden in November. It is easy to interpret a month or so with little to no rest as evidence that one has taken on too much in their lives. This may or may not be the case, and when the activities someone is involved in are generally making them happy, it is far better to endure a busy and stressful season than to give up on activities that are producing a sense of fulfillment.

The Oregon Trail IRL

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We all remember playing the game as a kid. There was even a scene in the movie Boyhood, where the main character, Mason, is playing the game at school. Across multiple generations, it seems like nearly everyone, at least in the United States, has an experience playing Oregon Trail sometime between grades 3 and 8.

Strangely, I don’t recall the exact learning purpose. It seems like the game is about American History. However, nothing in the game requires players to remember historical facts. I bet that a lot of people play the game multiple times without even knowing that in the year it is set, 1848, James K. Polk was president and we were finishing up a war with Mexico. The game does seem to teach kids about geography, and some basic life skills like how to survive in the wilderness, plan a trip, and avoid disease.

The Oregon Trail IRL was a one time event, on a Saturday evening, at the History Colorado Center. It is only the third time I’ve ever consumed alcohol inside a museum, and is the kind of hands on event I would like to see more of at museums.

Don’t get me wrong, I do love all kinds of special exhibits, and the History Colorado Center had a great on on baseball at the same time.

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However, there is something about being able to physically interact with something like the Oregon Trail at a museum. As I had noted before, the permanent exhibits at the History Colorado Center are quite interactive, something I certainly appreciate. The Oregon Trail IRL, a one night event, is quite different a typical museum experience.

Participants took part in real life versions of the activities we all remember doing on the screen; fording a river, hunting, looking for wild fruit, and even fixing tires.

 

The only disappointment was that I sincerely expected to go to a room where we kill something like 2,400 pounds of bison, but are only able to carry 200 pounds of it back to the wagon. That seemed to always happen in that game.

It had not even occurred to me how much the event was about nostalgia until I entered a room called Ms. Frizzle’s Classroom Crafts.

 

Popular music from the late 1990s, such as Ricky Martin and Britney Spears were playing. There were old computers, overhead projectors, and everything people of a certain age range would remember about being in school. For a few minutes, I actually got quite emotional, remembering what childhood and being in school was like.

My mind instinctively turned to the good things, the things I wish I had more of in my adult life; Spending most of the day learning about a variety of different topics, and being surrounded by a community of people in the same situation as me (the class). Adulthood can be isolating, and many of us have jobs where we focus on one thing the entire day.

Nostalgia has its place. It is always fun to share fond memories with people. However, nostalgia can also be a trap. We often simplify the past, remembering experiences as only good or only bad, when the truth is far more complicated. I certainly long for the intellectual variety and the community I had during school. However, I would not want to return to an environment with all the social pressure and anxiety, where people are mean to those who do not conform to standards that in now way help anyone achieve success later in life. Like every chapter of our lives, this one had both positive and negative aspects.

Too much nostalgia can also get us too focused on the past. No matter how hard we try, the past cannot be re-created. However, the wisdom of these experience can help us make better futures, or, at the very least put into better context what we want, what we don’t want, what works and what doesn’t. The key is to not spend too much time dwelling on how much we miss our good times or how wronged we felt during our bad times.

At a young age, I recall hearing from a lot of older people that the music of “their era” was better. I started to recognize this as kind of a phenomenon, even though it does not have a name. It felt as if these people were culturally stuck, in a past era, 10, 20, or 30 years ago, however long it had been since their youth.

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I never wanted that for myself, because it feels like there is a connection between being stuck in the culture of the past, and being unable to adapt to a changing culture. As I get older, I plan to continue to follow whatever is new, culturally, as best as I can. In fact, despite the fond memories of the songs I heard in Ms. Fizzle’s classroom, I also remember that time period having some really bad ones as well. An idealized version of the past, in our heads, can prevent us from living our best lives in the present. Macklemore and Kesha, in their recent hit song Good Old Days, remind us that whatever situation we are currently in, is something we should be able to appreciate. This can’t happen if too much time is spent thinking about the past.