Understanding the Psychology Behind Aging Mentally - And How To Stay Mentally-Young

Blog Mind Understanding the Psychology Behind Aging Mentally - And How To Stay Mentally-Young

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11.9.2020 0 comments

Have you ever noticed that time seems to speed up as you get older?

When we’re young, summer feels like it will last forever, and so does winter, and spring, and fall! There’s a strange suspension of time as if whatever our “present” is will continue in the same state unchanged for a long, long time.

However, as we get older, time seems to get shorter. The months of summer vacation after graduation tend to fly by, because on the other side there’s real life, responsibilities, and being an adult. When you’re a parent, the weeks-long vacations feel even shorter and you’re back to work before you know it.

Why is this? Why does time seem to move so slowly when we’re young, but speed up as we get older? Does it ever slow down again? Will we ever have more time to enjoy life, or are we forever going to be experiencing shorter and shorter time?

The Study of Time Perception

Time perception is a field of psychology that deals with “the subjective experience, or sense, of time, which is measured by someone's own perception of the duration of the indefinite and unfolding of events.” [1]

Time perception researchers examine the way that perspective can influence the way we mark the passage of time—a concept called “perceived duration”.

Think about it:

  • When you’re ten years old, adding one year adds an additional ten percent to your lifespan. That’s a pretty sizeable number!

  • When you’re twenty years old, adding one year adds just five percent more to your lifespan. Suddenly, the same passage of time starts to look a lot smaller.

  • When you’re fifty years old, adding one year adds just two percent more to your lifespan. This can often feel like it passes in the blink of an eye.

This time perception effect is one of the reasons that time seems to pass so slowly when we’re younger, and so much more quickly when we’re older. As children, we have only limited understanding of the concept of “time”—we’ve only lived a few years, so everything seems to last much longer. However, as adults, we’ve got more years—more time—under our belts, so we’ve lived through those days, weeks, months, and years over and over, so many times that just one more doesn’t feel like a big deal.

As one psychologist puts it, “Age definitely influences our impression of time’s passing, but not in the way we might expect. Each passing month or year is less weighty relative to a whole life.” [2]

The strange thing is that age also tends to cover up the big, important moments as well as the passage of time.

For example, proposing to your future spouse is a HUGE deal in the moment that you’re doing it. For those hours—and the days and weeks following—it is the most significant life event.

But flash-forward a few decades and add on a lot more significant life events. You went through with the wedding, the happiest day of your life. You had your first child, which then becomes the happiest day of your life. You had more children, celebrated their birthdays, enjoyed your wedding anniversaries, bought your first home together, and so many more sizeable events.

Then add on all the small events: the happy day at work, the promotion, the marvelous romantic weekend getaway with your spouse, the fun day at the park with your children, and so many more. Add in the bad events, too—the first major injury, a death in the family, financial hardship, car problems, and so on.

Suddenly, the single massive life event (of the proposal) is joined by countless more, and they all become smaller in the grand picture that is your life.

Your perception of life continues to grow with each passing year, with each occurrence and significant life event, until the things that once felt so huge are just one more small stepping stone in the passage of time.

This isn’t a bad thing—it simply is the way it is. Understanding this will help you to realize the importance of making the most of the time you have.

As one psychologist says, “The active life gives the impression that time is moving slowly, contradicting the notion that boredom makes the clock run excruciatingly slower. That activity is intimately connected with body time, pulse, heartbeat, body temperature, and muscle memory, as well as brain activity.”

That’s why it’s so highly recommended for older adults to be engaged in activity on a regular basis. Not only will it help them to remain healthy, but it will provide more “highs” for them to mark the passage of time, and to make the best use of the days, weeks, months, and years remaining to them!


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time_perception

[2] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-speed-life/202006/the-body-clock


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