@Syndremark: NR might still be applied to the jpeg preview portion of the RAW, and depending on software....it may also pick up on your NR settings (IE Adobe software may not show NR, but Canon could). The main philosophy of RAW though, is that you're getting all the sensor data so that you could also try getting settings without NR, different WB, some exposure latitude, etc.
As for the OP getting back into photography: yeah, I shoot RAW and jpeg, and I find that if I look at thumbnails in File Explorer....RAWs look more washed out then the jpegs. Part of it is the color profile: especially if you're using the default color profiles from your camera, they will be quite a bit more contrasted and saturated then the presented RAW preview. When I load my RAWs into Lightroom, I have them "As Shot"...and colors then have some more punch then the File Explorer thumbnails. I tend to set exposure and blackpoint and whitepoint values for the first photo in the series. Once it's the way I like, I'll copy the develop settings and apply them to the rest of the photos. We all have different methods that work for us....I think the key in learning to get successful photos is to try focusing one thing at a time. If currently you're not comfortable using AF points and nailing focus....I think you should keep your exposure settings more on auto (or auto priority), and learn how to use zones (and spot AF) and comfortably switch between one shot and ai servo. I use back button focus. Do keep in mind that if you want tack sharp images, making sure you don't have slow shutter is also crucial. You may start learning these setting after awhile and when you're ready, start to move on to controlling exposure manually. I tend to have my camera in a priority mode, but I'm still looking at all exposure settings to be sure they're in the range I want them to be.
As for the color profile settings most photographers use: Faithful is popular for maintaining color accuracy and saturation. I like Neutral myself, which emphasizes contrast (and might let me determine my latitude in highlights).