Perception of Time as we Age

As we grow older, time seems to speed up. We'll consider possible explanations.

Does it seem that time passes faster than it used to? Do you find yourself making statements like “I can’t believe it’stime perception already Monday,” “I can’t believe it’s already April,” or worse, “I can’t believe I’m already 60.”

 

Perception of the time is interesting. Sometimes, time seem to fly by, and sometimes it drags on. Yet, the clock ticks off each second, minute, hour and lifetime at exactly the same rate. So, why does time seem to pass more rapidly as we grow older?

 

Changing perception of time with aging has been a topic of psychological research and debate since the 1890’s, but we still don’t fully understand it. There seem to be several factors leading to our sense that the clock speeds up as we grow older. A 2013 summary of research by Jordan Lewis in “Scientific American” presents several theories.

 

  1. We gauge time by memorable events.

    In our younger years, we experience more first-time events (a first date, first kiss, first job, marriage and the birth of children), than in our older years. The fact that those memorable events were packed into a few years may make those years seem longer. A year where everything seemed to be changing will seem longer than a year where most things stayed the same.

  2. The amount of time relative to one’s age varies.

    This theory suggests that we are constantly comparing time intervals with the total amount of time we have already lived. One year is 10% of a 10 year old’s life, but only 2% of a 50 year old’s life.

  3. Our biological clock may slow with age.

    Brain research suggests that there are several parts of the brain involved in our perception of time. It may be that some of these parts slow with age. Since the actual speed of the clock stays the same, we may perceive time to pass more quickly as we age.

  4. As we age, we may pay less attention to time.

    The phrase “slow as Christmas” doesn’t seem to apply when we are older. Young people seem to spend more time anticipating the future. Waiting for an anticipated event to occur (a birthday or Christmas) can make the time seem to move like molasses.

 

It seems to me that time perception with age is similar to time perception on vacation. Let’s say that you have a week at the beach. The first days seem to last forever. You feel like you’ve been there a long time already, and you still have several days to go. In the middle of the week, the time seems to pass more quickly. You begin to sense that the week is forging ahead. Then at the end of the week, the days seem to speed by. You feel like the week passed too quickly. After all, you just got here and it’s time to go home.

 

Life, like a vacation week, is a finite period of time. As we move closer toward the end of that time, we feel more like we just got here. The years seem to fly by. I guess it’s just one more reason to enjoy each moment!

 

 

I’m a psychologist, who helps people who have sustained self-esteem wounds from past negative experiences, overcome those wounds and experience a more positive self-worth, so they can live more joyful and satisfying lives.