As a kid, I never understood why so many people were always saying things like “time flies,” “the years go by in a flash,” “there’s not enough time in the day.” Back then, it felt as if each day dragged on forever, and becoming an adult myself seemed light years away.
Fast-forward to adulthood. I now clearly understand what everyone means about the swift passage of time — and I want it to slow down. I often can’t believe how quickly the weeks, months, and years are moving. Blink, and suddenly another season has come and gone. Wasn’t it just the Fourth of July? Weren’t my little girls just babies? How is it possible my husband and I have been married for 10 years already?
As I was discussing this phenomenon with Experience Life’s fitness editor, Maggie Fazeli Fard, a while back, she shared a perspective that helped make sense of the feeling that time is speeding by: At 5 years old, one year is 1/5 or 20 percent of your life; at 35, it’s 1/35 or 2.8 percent; at 85, it’s 1/85 or 1.1 percent. The fraction and percentage get smaller with every birthday, each year lived a tinier piece in our lifeline. It’s no wonder each year seems to tick by a little quicker.
In a popular 2015 TED Radio Hour episode, Harvard psychologist and best-selling author Dan Gilbert, PhD, explains time’s passage more retrospectively: “Older and younger people don’t actually experience time all that differently; they just remember it very differently. When old people say, ‘Time goes by so fast,’ they’re talking about the time that’s already gone by.
“There’s also just a whole helluva lot more recording in the brain of an 86-year-old person. When they’re thinking about life, they’re thinking across much greater expanses of time,” Gilbert says. “And so to traverse that many years in five seconds versus traversing five or six years in five seconds, you would get the sense that you’re going a lot faster.”
For children, it’s like watching a slow-motion replay; for older individuals, it’s like time lapse.
Then there’s the modern pace at which many of us are living our day-to-day lives within these passing years. The need to always be on the go, to be productive, to succeed, has changed how we’re spending our time. We’re often hurrying to the next thing — physically and mentally — rather than slowing down to enjoy this moment.
Add in factors like technology, and we’re physiologically syncing to a faster pace that’s determined not by the rhythms of nature, but by “the rhythms of computers,” as author Stephan Rechtschaffen, MD, explains. (For more on this concept, see “What’s the Rush?”)
We can’t do a whole lot to change our perception of quickly passing time, but we do have a lot of say in how we actually spend our time. We can put fewer ho-hum to-dos on the list in favor of favorite hobbies and activities. We can look up from our devices and connect with each other. With conscious effort, we can slow down, take a step back, and be right here, right now.
I’m now one of those people who say time flies — and when I look back on my own time lapse, I want it to be full of deeply joyful memories.