Why Our Sense of Time Seems to Speed Up As We Get Older
You know how when you’re a child it feels like it will be “forever” before you grow up and become an adult? School years seem to stretch ahead of you endlessly. School days seem to be never-ending.
Then, when we grow up, we look back and realize that it didn’t take that long after all. In fact, it seems that the years are going by faster and faster the older we get with no hope of time slowing down, because laws of physics.
Yet, when we think back on our lives and look at old childhood photos, it can often seem like those childhood years lasted longer than the sped-up adult years. Obviously, that’s not true. Time hasn’t changed, so what’s going on?
Think about it. When you’re 10 years old, 1 year is the equivalent of 10% of your life. That’s a really long time. Yet, when you’re 60 years old, 1 year is less than 2% of your life. That’s not very long. This is part of the reason we view time differently as adults, but it’s not the only one.
Research has proven that children don’t view time accurately. There was a study done where participants of different ages listened to a long sound and a short sound. Then they heard other sounds and were supposed to say whether the length of the sound was closer to the long one or the short one.
In this study, the youngest participants were about 5 years old, and they were the least accurate in there sound length guesses. They perceived shorter sounds to be longer than they really were.
According to Patricia Costello, PhD, a neuroscientist and program director at Walden University, explains that children’s “neural transmission is in effect physically slower compared to adults. This in turn affects how they perceive the passage of time. By the time we are adults, our time circuits are done wiring and we have learned from experience how to correctly encode the passage of time.”
But why is it that when we look back on our lives it seems like the childhood years lasted longer than our adult years? This has to do with making new, unique memories. Children are constantly learning and being introduced to new things. This doesn’t happen as often when we’re adults.
Think about the last time you went on a vacation. You probably experienced new places, sounds, tastes and sights. While it might have seemed like your vacation went by too quickly, when you look back at the photos and remember all of the unique experiences, it might later seem like the vacation actually lasted quite awhile.
You don’t have to go on an expensive vacation to replicate this feeling of time lasting longer. You just need to be intentional about enjoying unique experiences and learning new things. You could try a new recipe, take a class in something that has always interested you, or go on a day trip to a nearby attraction.
Another trick to fool yourself into thinking time is slowing down is that at the end of every day, take about a half hour to think about all that you saw and did that day. You probably had more unique experiences than you realize, and consciously remembering them now will help you remember them in the future. You could write them down in a journal, talk about your day with your friends or around the dinner table with your family, or you can just reminisce quietly before bed.