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Best Years of Your Life

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It's a depressing thought.

When I look back now
That summer seemed to last forever
And if I had a choice
I'd always wanna be there
Those were the best days of my life.
Bryan Adams, "Summer of 69"

You're miserable. You're unpopular. Your erstwhile Best Friend Forever just got a look from the Alpha Bitch and charged off to join the Girl Posse without a backwards glance. The Jerk Jock is harassing you to prove that Youth Is Wasted on the Dumb. You have too much homework and you've put it off too late. You have no time and no qualifications to make money, so you can afford nothing.

So your parents burble, "These are the best years of your life!"

A Stock Phrase frequently deployed by nostalgic adults, who want to think that Growing Up Sucks but childhood was good. Generally indicates that Adults Are Useless, as few if any stories exist where the adults are actually right to say this. When an adult is reflecting on the best years of his life, the trope is Glory Days. (Overlap is likely.)

The only person for whom this is actually true is the Future Loser.

The Anime/Japanese culture equivalent is seishun (springtime of your youth). Generally played even more melodramatically (and parodied all the time).

PSA: this is obviously meant to indicate a parent is an idiot but things do get better. Do not take this phrase to heart because it will cause spiraling.

And besides, whoever it was first said that school days are the best days of your life clearly never went to school or saw the show...


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Excel♡Saga's Baseball Episode features a heavy parody of this.
  • The opening of Kimagure Orange Road plays it straight, specifically using seishun.
  • Parodied in Space☆Dandy when Dandy declares that his time in college was the best years of his life. This being a college that he pretended to attend for about a week as part of a bounty hunt, all as an adult.

    Comic Strips 
  • Calvin and Hobbes:
    • Mostly invoked by Calvin's dad.
      Calvin: People who get nostalgic about childhood were obviously never children.
    • In another strip, Calvin asks his dad what the "Halcyon days" of one's youth might be ("Is Saturday one?") and is told that these are awarded retroactively from the position of cynical middle age. Calvin leaves disgusted that apparently you never know you're having a good time when you're having it.
  • A Life in Hell comic panel titled "The Beginning of Wisdom" has Bongo responding to said phrase with "You mean it gets WORSE?!"
  • Frazz:
    • A girl recounts how her father had told her this. She had countered that this probably said less about school than about his actuary career.
    • On another occasion, a child asks for and gets assurance that it's not true.

    Fan Works 
  • In Those Lacking Spines, Vexen takes an opportunity to air his frustration with high school, and he and Lexaeus have a back-and-forth about it.
    "They say high school is the best four years of your life," Lexaeus shrugged.
    "Who's 'they'?" Vexen sneered. "If those four years are to be the pinnacle of my life, I might as well go and jump in front of an oncoming train."

    Films — Animation 
  • In The LEGO Ninjago Movie, Lloyd asks his mother, Koko, if he could avoid going to school on his 16th birthday due to him being the most unpopular person in Ninjago because he's the son of the evil Lord Garmadon. Koko assures him that these are the best years of his life, to which Lloyd replies that high school is judgy.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Best Years of Our Lives uses this concept via irony. The three Shell-Shocked Veteran spent their best years fighting World War II, and come back to their former lives. One of them finds out that his wife is cheating on him, and she is unrepentant:
    Marie: I've given you every chance to make something of yourself. I gave up my own job when you asked me. I gave up the best years of my life, and what have you done? You flopped!
  • All of the adults in Friday Night Lights remind the football players that high school is the best years of their lives. However, most of them are Jaded Washouts who are pinning their failed hopes and dreams on the players. More than half the team continuously buckles under all the pressure, in addition to having to deal with their own problems.
  • In Vice Versa, the overbearing, stuffy father says something like this, and wishes he were a schoolboy again. Unfortunately for him, he's holding a magic Indian stone that grants wishes.
  • The movie Show Me Love (Fucking Åmål) has an inversion, which somehow has the exact same horrible effect. Agnes' father tries to be understanding, and says she shouldn't worry — things won't always be this bad, you'll be a lot happier in twenty or thirty years... Even the low end of that wait is more than double Agnes's current age (she's 16), so it would seem like an eternity. Also, the wording makes it sound like things won't improve until she's in her mid-thirties or later. Between the two, that's plenty of reason for a teenager to despair.
  • In Clerks II, while they're in jail near the end of the film, Randall says he thinks of his time working at the video store as the best years of his life. Among others things, like getting to watch movies for free, he got to hang out with his best friend, Dante.
  • Much of Dazed and Confused shows how decidedly un-idyllic high school was for the characters in the film. Nevertheless, its release in 1993 was the first inkling of a wave of 70s fashion and music nostalgia in the 90s amongst young people in the United States...
    Pink: All I'm saying is that if I ever start referring to these as the best years of my life — remind me to kill myself.
  • The World's End starts with Gary King talking about a high school escapade which was the best night of his life, and ends with him revealing what viewers had long since realized: That it never got better than that night.

  • Gustave Flaubert's Sentimental Education invokes this at the finale when Gustave Moreau and Deslauriers, the two main characters look back on their years of friendship and youthful hijinks and finally remember an early misadventure where they gatecrashed a brothel, early in their youth before going to Paris:
    Gustave Moreau: I believe that was the best time of our lives!
    Deslauriers: Well perhaps. But yes, I too believe that was the best time of our lives!
  • Used by the narrator's stepfather in Space Station Seventh Grade, though the narrator can think of several reasons why being twelve sucks.
  • In the Stephen King novel Lisey’s Story, one of Lisey's sisters comments to Lisey that they want to get together like "the good old days"; Lisey has flashbacks to her sisters treating her like crap.
  • In the book Friday Night Lights: the narrator thinks this will be the case for many of the football players, who are heroes of the school and the whole town in high school, but most of whom will spend their days in an oil field following graduation. This also happens in the film.
  • In Michael C. Bailey's Action Figures - Issue One: Secret Origins, Matt assures Carrie that the jocks and cheerleaders are the people this is true for.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Lois the mother on Malcolm in the Middle. Although occasionally she would flip flop and tell Malcolm that being a kid sucks but it would all get better later.
  • Summed up by Rab C. Nesbitt: "School days? Best days of your life, if you are a fucking sadomasochist!"

  • "Have no fear, these are nowhere near the best years of your life" in the country song "Letter to Me" by Brad Paisley.
  • "Summer of '69", as quoted above, by Bryan Adams (who was 9 years old in the eponymous season.)
    • The lyrics were written by Adams' then-songwriting partner, Jim Vallance, who was 17 when the song takes place.
    • And whether the 69 refers to the year, the sex position, or both depends on Bryan Adams' mood.
  • "Wasted Years" by Iron Maiden, which was written largely as a response to several extremely hectic years of non-stop touring, with breaks only to go into the studio to record their albums. Made even more ironic given that the album the song came off of (Somewhere in Time) is where many Iron Maiden fans consider the seasonal rot for the band's work began.
  • Attacked by Pink Floyd in the song "The Happiest Days of Our Lives," which is about abusive teachers in an English boarding school and serves as a spoken intro for "Another Brick in the Wall Part 2."
  • The Ataris, "In This Diary"'s refrain goes
    Being grown up isn't half as fun as growing up
    These are the best years of our life
  • Nirvana's "School" is a single stanza criticism of this quote. (The only lyrics of the song are "Won't you believe it, it's just my luck", "You're in high school again" and "No recess!") However, according to Word of God, Kurt wrote the song as a Take That! to the Seattle grunge scene—he had to suppress his more creative instincts and stick to by-the-book Grunge for Bleach to fit in and get noticed.
  • The Ex Pistols (a Sex Pistols soundalike band) recorded a song called Schools Are Prisons which included the lines:
    They took the best years of my life
    And made it so I couldn't decide
  • Discussed in BTS' album series The Most Beautiful Moment in Life, as well as its intro track (which has the same name). While not using the exact wording of the trope title, it refers to how youth is always referred to as this, and is meant to talk about how, despite having its beautiful moments, youth also has a lot of moments of pain, fear and uncertainty, often drawing from the members' own experiences. It features songs about stuff like fear of the future, depression, loneliness, Destructive Romances, and pressures people of higher classes and older generations force on young people. It, however, also features empowering songs like "Dope" and "Fire," and ends in a bittersweet tone in "Epilogue: Young Forever," with the fear that the beautiful moments won't last forever, but the thought that you can be young forever as you run towards your dreams.
  • Inverted by Daryl Hall & John Oates in "Adult Education," with the repeated line "Believe it or not, there's life after high school."

    Video Games 
  • On the ZX Spectrum, the title of The Happiest Days of Your Life correctly implies that it's set in a school.

    Web Comics 
  • As seen in the page image, Mac Hall brings up the topic when one of the characters points out that since middle school was hell, and he's spent most of college in a dark cloud of depression, high school really WAS the best years of his life. So far anyway.

    Web Original 
  • The Loner's Journey blog has a post 30 Things I learned in school. Number 19 states "Anyone whoever said 'High School is the best time of your life' should be convicted with assisting suicide and get mental help. Immediately."
  • Cracked mocked and deconstructed this trope in several different articles.
    • John Cheese in particular seems to hate this phrase, noting the insanity of telling someone dealing with peer pressure, relationship problems, anxiety, raging uncertainty and, in many unfortunate cases, mental illness that can lead to suicidal thoughts that their lives are only going to get worse. He has repeatedly made a point of saying that things can and do get much better because You gain freedom to decide Your own fate and are no longer bound by anyone else's mistakes or rules. His article 5 Reasons Life Actually Does Get Better informed teens that, while They may feel that They can't survive High school, They will and things will improve.
    • Also subverted by Dan O'Brien's article "4 Things I Wish I'd known as an awkward High schooler" where he notes how awful and strange high school is and his article "4 Signs of adulthood for reluctant grown-ups" where he talks about the benefits of adulthood that await after high school.

    Web Videos 
  • Cinema Wins: Deconstructed in "Everything GREAT About The LEGO Ninjago Movie!":
    Lee: When are we gonna stop telling kids that? It's nice encouragement, but guys, I gets harder, but also easier and better. And listen, I had a great high school experience, I even married my high school girlfriend. So enjoy high school for sure, but know that if you're not having the greatest time, the best is yet to come.

    Western Animation 
  • Daria: Daria and Jane once reflected on the dreadful likelihood of this. (It seemed less dreadful after some Comedic Sociopathy a moment later.)
  • With a Bad Is Good and Good Is Bad spin in the Wacky Races episode "Race to Racine", after Muttley sabotages Dick Dastardly when he supposed to sabotage the Ant Hill Mob, Dastardly opines "And after giving him the worst years of my life... where did I go wrong?"
  • South Park: In "4th Grade", the boys start to think of their first three years of school as this when they move up to fourth grade, and their new teacher Mrs. Choksondik turns out to be a good deal stricter than the flighty Mr. Garisson (who had a nervous breakdown and ran away into the mountains early in season 4). Cartman has the others reminisce about third grade as some sort of golden age under a saintlike teacher, it's only at the end of the episode when Mrs. Choksondik learns to interact with the kids on their level (i.e. vulgar language) that the kids remember that third grade sucked too, and accept moving forward in life instead of clinging to fake nostalgia.

    Real Life 
  • Truth in Television: Parents say this all the time to high school kids. People often say this to elementary schoolers and below too.
  • This phrase, often verbatim, will show up almost every high-school graduation season, in things like ads congratulating the current graduating class. No one ever seems to notice the fact that you're saying the best years of your life A) likely weren't that great and B) just ended.
    • Which really makes you wonder, "If the best years of your life have already ended, then what exactly are you living for now?"
      • Parents think that it's helpful to tell their children the real world is tough, but the truth is that it is harder to try something new if you think it's going to be difficult, as you expect yourself to fail. If on the other hand, you expect to win, you are more likely to keep trying until you do.
    • Unfortunately for some teens, this is so ingrained into them that some make the resolution (usually after graduating high school or college) to make those years the last years of their life. There's no downward spiral if there's nobody to spiral down, after all.
  • Self-concious people doing their chosen job may sometimes feel this looking at younger people that managed to master it faster than they did, thinking that because they didn't succeed at that person's age they'll never succeed at all (thus there was no "best year" because they missed the deadline to get one). Especially bad if that's a kid with that mindset: if you hit 11 and you're still behind that 10 year old with the beautiful paintings, then it's time to pack it up and start training for that hypothetical soul-crushing job.
  • Recently, the trope has been inverted with the "It gets better" project, which promises gay students that their school years won't be the best years of their life.
    • Similarly, many creative people feel that the restrictions of school prevented them from actually growing up and expressing their talents properly, and when they leave, they are finally able to do what they want without people criticising them for it.
  • "The best two years of my life" is something of a Stock Phrase among returned missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You can almost distinguish members who have been on a mission from those who haven't by their reaction to this phrase. Those who haven't will typically consider the phrase to be too much of a cliché to be used seriously. Returned missionaries might agree, but then they'll get that slight smile and far off look in their eyes...
    • People who spent their childhood living in another country and liked it will often find that it becomes the best years of their life because they can't have it back.
  • On the jokey side (unless you do postgrad), but still:
    College! Best seven years of my life!