Most people believe that time moves faster as they become older. Especially in retrospect, it seems that this is the case. The past few years of our lives appear to have gone by far too fast, while the first five years of our lives feel like an eternity. However, does time really seem to fly by faster as we age, or are we merely experiencing mental refraction?
New Year’s Eve is coming closer and it seems like only yesterday that we were celebrating the previous New Year. From adulthood onwards, time often seems to fly by. When we reflect on our youth, though, we often find that elementary school or the graduation trip we took before entering high school seemed to endure an eternity. The same thing often happens when we talk to acquaintances. Is it possible that how we see the passage of time changes as we become older?
Time in a peculiar way
Research has demonstrated that our sense of time changes as we become older. However, the time period is also a factor. People of all ages have a consistent perception of the duration of shorter time periods, such as weeks, months, or up to a year.
When participants were asked to estimate how rapidly time had gone in the past ten years, however, a distinct pattern emerged: older individuals estimated a quicker rate of time passage. It seems that one’s sense of time does not change much between the ages of 50 and 60. Age does undoubtedly have a role in shaping how we perceive the passage of time.
The conundrum of holidays
As a result of various influences, we do not always judge the same intervals of time to have the same duration. The extent of our past experiences is one factor, while the extent to which we reflect on past events or make estimates of present duration are other factors.
Claudia Hammond, a psychologist, coined the term “holiday paradox” to characterize this phenomenon. According to this theory, if we have a lot of novel or interesting experiences within a certain time period, we will remember that time period as being longer than it really was. Time moves quickly during this period. The day appears short and unremarkable when we get up, but when we reflect on it that night, it feels lengthy and jam-packed.
Conversely, when we are bored or doing routine tasks, the effect is the polar opposite. It might seem like an age when you’re waiting for the train or doing mundane tasks at the workplace. On the whole, however, we remember very little about that day. In hindsight, this makes the time period appear shorter.
More knowledge and wisdom
The neurobiology of the human brain provides an answer. It makes a more in-depth record of the novel or emotionally charged encounters than routine ones. The same holds true for our memories, with the novelty and significance of unique events being rewarded with a higher retention rate. Time periods in our past will always be relative to the number of memories we have of them.
This is also why we remember our youth as being so lengthy in hindsight. Simply said, we gained more knowledge and experienced more things for the first time during that period than at any other moment in our lives. That’s why the first field trip always feels so long and the final one looks like it went by in a flash.
Take a break from your normal routine
However, this seemingly contradictory brain activity has the benefit of allowing us some control over how time seems to pass. For the simple reason that when we go out of our comfort zones and try something new, that experience becomes etched indelibly into our brains.
For this reason, it might be useful to adopt preventative actions now if we want to have fond memories of a long and fruitful life in old age. We could go out and see the places, learn a new hobby, or try skydiving instead of sitting around and watching Netflix.