The holidays can make time seem to fly by. Here are some reasons why.
Q. “HalloweenThanksgivingChristmasNewYears” describes how I feel about the holidays as well as the passing years in general. It all is happening so fast. Once it’s Halloween, I feel we are almost at the New Year. Why do the holidays and the years seem to pass so quickly as we age? Many thanks. N.N.
When it comes to the holidays, early advertising campaigns may be one reason that we feel Christmas is already upon us. Retailers are advised to start holiday advertising in mid-November. Email marketing can start even earlier.
Indeed, a generalized perception is that time passes faster as we get older. Many studies and theories support this notion; others do not. Here are several summarized by science writer Jordan Gaines Lewis in Scientific American (December 18, 2013).
Passage of time relates to memorable events and experiences. William James in his 1890 text “Principles of Psychology” wrote that time seems to speed up because adults have fewer memorable events. He notes that time is measured by “firsts” such as the first day of school, the first kiss and the first family vacation. He suggested that we may be measuring time by the number of events we can recall with fewer events leading to feeling that time is passing quickly.
Conclusion: With fewer memorable events, years may blend together adding to the perception of the quick passage of time. (My comment: Today, older adults have many memorable events such as anniversaries, grandchildren, vacations, new jobs, going to school and more. Many of those events are “firsts.”)
Stress impacts the perception of time. Stress seems to be an equal opportunity trigger of time perception regardless of age. Here’s a common phrase, “I have so much to do and so little time, I’ll never be able to catch up.” Researchers conclude that time pressures indeed contribute significantly to our perception of time across all age groups and across cultures. Similar results were found among German, Austrian, Dutch, Japanese and New Zealand study participants.
Conclusion: Age is not the primary concern. Rather, it’s stress that affects the perception of time across ages and cultures.
It’s a non-issue. Lewis further notes that with age we pay less attention to time. Let’s go back to holidays as an example. December 1 comes around and the kids including grandchildren are counting the days until they receive their special gift. For them, it may seem forever. In the meantime, older adults may be busy preparing for celebrations with family and friends, travel plans, holiday shopping and more. They may pay little attention to time as they are too busy getting things done.
Conclusion: Older adults often ignore time because they are busy with tasks and responsibilities.
The time-ratio theory. This also goes back to the late 1800s with a theory proposed by French philosopher Paul Janet. The idea is that we perceive time by comparing it with our life span. “When you’re one year old, it’s all the time that you’ve ever known. But as you grow older, one year is a smaller and smaller fraction of your total life. It’s like watching something shrink in your rearview mirror.”
Conclusion. Time seems to pass quickly as there are fewer years to live.
It’s about biology. The brains of older and younger people process information differently, according to psychologist Clifford N. Lazarus. He cites the work of Adrian Bejan, professor of mechanical engineering at Duke University whose argument is based on the physics of neural signal processing and visual memory. Bejan suggests that over time, the rate at which we process visual information slows down, and this is what makes the perception of time “speed up” as we grow older.
Conclusion: Older adults perceive the passage of time moving quickly because of a slowdown in processing visual memory.
Here’s a personal perspective. More than two years of Covid-19 has blurred our perception of time. We no longer had the traditional markers of events, deadlines and expectations. Time became a blur and perhaps more for older adults who had little contact and engagement. Fortunately, we are slowly recovering. Although several theories and research studies suggest older adults may not feel that time is speeding up, most older adults I know sense that time is fleeting. And that relates to life expectancy. We know that life is finite. The clock is ticking and that causes us, in part, to feel that the days, months and years are racing by. We want to make the most of them.
So, everyone, live well and long, and be kind to yourself and others.
Helen Dennis is a nationally recognized leader on issues of aging and the new retirement with academic, corporate and nonprofit experience. Contact Helen with your questions and comments at Helendenn@gmail.com. Visit Helen at HelenMdennis.com and follow her on facebook.com/SuccessfulAgingCommunity