Remember the way school recess was over in an instant? Remember how your tenth birthday took almost forever to arrive? Yeah, that was childhood. Now months zip by with such speed that it’s becoming obvious why the oldest people cling so fiercely to handrails—because time is practically knocking them down as it whips past.
This concept is brilliantly depicted at Wait But Why.
See how our perspective of time changes as the years go by?
Researcher Robert Lemlich studied the way we perceive time’s passage. According to him, 80-year-olds have gone through 71 percent of their subjective experience of time by the age of 40, making the years between ages 60 and 80 seem like 13 percent of their lives. By his calculations, when we’re 20 years old we’re halfway through the felt experience of our lives, meaning that 60 additional years will seem to pass as quickly as the first 20. That’s a nasty blow.
It makes me wonder how the youngest among us sense time. If a baby cries when a parent leaves, does it feel like an eternity of sorrow to him? If a toddler’s plaything is grabbed by another toddler, does that frustration seem to stretch out forever? Maybe that’s not far from the truth.
Our experience of time isn’t entirely explained by the proportional theory. If we think about it, we realize our perception of time has a great deal to do with what we’re experiencing. Time actually warps. Notice that it moves grindingly slow when we’re in physical or emotional pain. Time also elongates (far more wonderfully) when we’re fully present, making even the most ordinary moments–a child’s squeal of laughter or the first sip of a cold drink on a hot day–into something larger. It stretches even further when we’re immersed in a wholly new experience–say first love or scuba diving.
Far too often, our personal time warp goes in one direction—hurtling down a chronological slide. It gathers speed because we’re busy, we’re multitasking, we’re in a rut, and thus less mindful of the passing moments that make up our days, weeks, and years.
We can get all quantum-y about it. There’s an experiment that seems to explain why time moves slower and faster according to our perception. But we don’t really need to study entangled photons to figure it out. We want to fully live the time we’re allotted on this planet.
I’m convinced we can swing time’s warpable dimensions in our favor. I hope to make time stretch by carving out screen free time, pausing between bites when I eat, and by walking outside every night to look at the stars. Even if my best intentions happen only occasionally, it may make a difference. How do you stretch your sense of time?