Birthdays and New Year’s Day are the two times each year that we step back and take stock of things.

Most of us look back with fondness. We tend to forget – or at least minimize - the bad things and wax nostalgic on the positive memories. That’s why they call them "the good, ol’ days."

We see the present clearly and as such notice all the warts, becoming disenchanted.

And we’re pessimistic about the future because we fear the unknown.

All this comes into play now not necessarily for us individually, but as a group after our nation just celebrated its 241st birthday.

As we look around the country, and the world, we see plenty that breaks our hearts. Negative news is seemingly everywhere. It’s bad – really, really bad, perhaps even the worst it’s ever been. We’ve all said that.

So what are we to do?

Take a deep breath, and take a look at the book.

Several months ago at work, I was in a little-used workroom down a side hallway on the top floor of the building and happened upon a big stack of copies of the 2007 edition of The World Almanac and Book of Facts. Why they were there – and why only 2007 editions – is anyone’s guess. Maybe because the room is a mess and dumping them onto the floor, right next to other old books, made a lot of sense.

The World Almanac, which was published from 1968-75, and then every year since 1886, bills itself as the best-selling American reference book of all-time.

It might be the biggest, too. The 2007 edition had 1,008 pages, with type small enough to give you eye strain. It is packed with facts and information. And nothing has changed from then to now, since the 2017 edition is 1,007 pages.

Anyway, being a history buff and a guy who likes to study facts and figures about anything and everything, I picked up several copies, dusted them off and gave them a new home and new life at my desks both at work and at home. The price was right.

And the custodians were probably thrilled I got them out of there. It was just that much less to clean around.

What a treasure.

Every time I pick up the World Almanac, I have to be careful not to spend too much time perusing it. Just like that, 20 minutes vanishes. It seems like only two minutes. You lose track of time when it’s something you really like.

For instance, did you know that Ohio’s biggest county in terms of area is Ashtabula (702 square miles) in the extreme northeast part of the state?

Or that Stark County (576 square miles) is much bigger than Summit County (413)?

Or Lake Erie, with 9,910 square miles, is the 12th-largest lake in the world?

Or that the Ohio River is 981 miles long?

Or that Wednesday is called Mittwoch in German?

Or that on Feb. 12, 1955, the U.S. agreed to train the South Vietnamese army?

Or that Mary Campbell of Columbus, Ohio is the only person to have won the Miss America contest twice (1922-23), and was the second person to earn the crown?

Pretty cool, huh?

But as interesting as the World Almanac is – and it’s extremely interesting – the best part is an eight-page full-color section in the front part of the book entitled, "The Year in Pictures." It is that just, photos – 23 of them – with short accompanying titles and descriptions to explain them and their significance in 2006.

"Ah, that was 11 years ago when life was so much simpler, pure and innocent – so different than now," I thought to myself. "This ought to be a joy. It will leave me with a good, warm feeling in my gut. By the time I’m done, I’ll be wishing I could turn back the clock to that wonderful time."

OK, let’s see what we’ve got here:

- WAR VETERAN: "In June, President Bush jogged with Army Staff Sgt. Christian Bagge, 23, who lost both legs in a roadside bombing while serving in Iraq."

Poor guy. Thank you for your service, sir.

- SURVEILLANCE: "In February, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales defended the Bush administration’s domestic electronic surveillance program to the Senate Judiciary Committee."

Say what? Big brother was watching even then?

- CO-CONSPIRATOR: "Zacarias Moussaoui was sentenced in May to life in prison for his role in the 9/11 terrorist plot."

Terrorism! Yikes!

- DELAY RESIGNS: "Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) resigned from office, effective June 9, after being indicted on charges of money laundering."

Wow! Improprieties back then, too, huh?

- MODERN MINUTEMEN: "Volunteers of the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps ran barbed wire fences along the Arizona border with Mexico in an attempt to stop undocumented immigrants from crossing into the U.S."

Fences? Stopping undocumented immigrants from getting into our country? You don’t say?

- GAS PRICES: "At the pump, prices remained high throughout 2006. In August, prices climbed above $3 a gallon, close to the all-time record set after Hurricane Katrina in 2005."

No matter the point in modern history, gas prices have been a big deal.

- IMMIGRATION REFORM: "On May 1, 'A Day Without Immigrants,' hundreds of protesters across the nation, especially in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles, took to the streets for immigration rights."

OK, so battles over immigration have been going on for a while? The person in the photo is holding a poster that reads, "We also have a dream!" Where have I seen that before?

- ENRON ON TRIAL: "Co-defendants Jeffrey Skilling and Ken Lay, former leaders of Enron, were convicted of fraud and conspiracy in May. Lay died of a heart attack in July."

More corruption, just like now.

- FIRST FEMALE ANCHOR: "In September, Katie Couric started as anchor of CBS Evening News."

You mean crowning achievements by females didn’t start a few months ago?

- BREAKING DOWN BARRIERS: "The tragic love story of two cowboys – ‘Brokeback Mountain,’ starring Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal – won three Oscars in March."

Guess the same can be said for the LGBT movement.

And perhaps the same can be said for all the supposed firsts in 2017 that really aren’t firsts at all.

As such, then, was the past really that good?

Is the present really that bad?

Is the future really that hopeless?

Or, in a lot of ways, are they all essentially the same, with a little good, a little bad and a little indifferent.

Happy Birthday, America. Congratulations for persevering through the years, even if we, with our egos telling us that nothing of importance happened until the day before yesterday, don’t realize it.