Einstein said –
”Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute”
I remember, when I was a kid waiting for an hour for my favourite tv show to come on, which was ‘’Biker Mice from Mars’’ that felt like an eternity, but as I’ve gone older everything seems to speed up.
But why is this? Is it just an illusion or are there good scientific reasons why time appears to go faster as we get older?
Psychologist William James, in his 1890 text ”Principles of Psychology”, wrote that as we age, time seems to speed up because adulthood is accompanied by fewer and fewer memorable events. When the passage of time is measured by “firsts” (first kiss, first day of school, first family vacation), the lack of new experiences in adulthood, James morosely argues, causes “the days and weeks [to] smooth themselves out…and the years grow hollow and collapse’’ .
Have you noticed that your vacations fly by? There are good reasons for this. When we are focused on something, we don’t notice the time is passing, and that makes them feel in the moment shorter than they actually are. At its best, this result in a mental state called ‘’flow’’, this can happen when playing sports or video games or artists when they are fully engrossed in their work or people meditating. Another reason why time speeds up as we age is because we are more often engrossed in what we are doing.
So what can we do to slow time down? Well, studies have shown that being afraid increases our perception of time. When arachnophobes were forced to stare at spiders for 45 seconds, those arachnophobes judged that experience lasting much longer than 45 seconds, as you would kinda expect. Also, experiments involving skydivers or people falling show that they judge their experience much longer than it actually is. Another time when time appears to pass slowly is when you are bored. Since there is so little what you can focus on, you are acutely aware of how much time is passing and so these boring moment drag on and on. But there is one important fact, that we can’t ignore:
People don’t experience time as just one thing, we think about time as it passes but also as it has passed before when we remember it, and those two ways of looking at the time they don’t align. For example holidays, they fell like they go by really fast, but when you think back upon them, they last a long time. That is because you had a lot of novel experiences and your brain formed a lot of memories and it judges the duration of that vacation by the number of memories that were formed, all that novelty means lots of memories, means it feels like it took a long time but in a moment it felt fast. This is the great paradox of our perception of time. If you want time to go slowly, there are a lot of things you can expose yourself to that will slow the time down, but they won’t necessarily be pleasant.
So maybe the happiest life and the longest remembered life, is one where time really seems to fly.
What would you like your life to feel like? Let us know in the comments below.