By Anju Miura
“Get Psyched” explores the complicated process of human thoughts and behavior to help you understand who we really are. I write this series in the belief that understanding psychological theories will make your life easier, or at least, teach you why life could be so hard. After reading my stories, you’ll get psyched.
Have you ever experienced a sudden panic attack in the middle of the night when you realize that you’re not a teenager anymore?
Teenage memories are too shameless to remember. But sometimes, the reality of college life is busier and more stressful than I expected, making me want to return to the fearless, irresponsible life of a high school student.
I remember countless adults told me, “Your 20s go faster than your teens, and your 30s go even faster than 20s.” As a teenager, I didn’t understand what they were saying, or maybe I didn’t pay attention to their life advice.
However, they were right.
Believe it or not, when you get older, time really flies like an arrow, or perhaps, like an aircraft.
The more time you have lived, the shorter each year feels.
Since I have entered my early 20s, a year feels like a month, a month feels like a week, and a week feels like a day (ok, maybe I’m exaggerating a little).
But why does time flies faster as we get older?
Life is proportional
This theory was scientifically proven by French philosopher Paul Janet in 1897. It states that our perception of time changes as we get older because each time period becomes a smaller fraction of our entire life experience.
A year for a two-year-old baby is 50 percent of its life, but a year for a 50-year-old is 2 percent of their life. Thus, adults are more likely to feel the increasing speed of time than children.
Based on Janet’s proportional theory, waiting 24 days for Christmas for a five-year-old feels like waiting for a year at age 76.
Check out this interactive visualization by Austrian designer Maximilian Kiener to see how time flies as you get old.
Time seems to slow down if the stimulus is novel.
Exposed to a new experience, we process more information at once than we normally do, and time feels longer because the brain constructs a new memory.
For children, the world is full of surprise. They learn how to write, how to make friends, how to ride a bike and are exposed countless other new experiences.
As we have lived for 20 years or so, very little can surprise us in our daily lives. The chances of gaining a memorable experience is pretty low as compared to when we were young.
Settling into our routine, we are less likely to engage in new activities, and every day becomes a familiar blur of work and stress.
How can we fight against this theory?
Albert Einstein said, “Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. That’s relativity.”
Sound familiar? There is no doubt that time flies when you are having fun.
Yes, although the hour spent in history lecture feels like forever, the hour we spend talking to our friends feels like minutes. Time perception depends on how much we are paying attention to an activity or an event.
As soon as you consider the history class as a boring, unnecessary use of time, you stop paying attention to the lecture and start to stare the clock, letting your mind wander. However, when you are talking to your friends, you focus on what your friends are saying and remember some recent fun stories that you want to share with them.
So if you want to live longer, “perceptually,” embrace the moment. Try to engage in new activities and focus on gaining new knowledge.