Why your life seems to be speeding up

It’s simple maths really.

Photo by Crissy Jarvis on Unsplash

One unnerving aspect of getting older is that life seems to speed up. Feeling that whoosh as time rushes past can be disheartening and may leave you wondering how to slow down time.

In a conversation with my friend about this topic, they made an off-hand comment that this was simple maths:

Let’s say you are 10 years old, one year represents 10% of your life (1/10).

If you’re 60 years old, one year is less than 2% of your life (1/60).

If the length of a period of time is judged in proportion to the time we have already been alive, then an exponential model of perceived time makes sense. To a four-year-old, the idea of having to wait a quarter of his life until he is the birthday-boy again is almost intolerable. Under this exponential model, the proportional increase in age that a four-year-old experiences between birthdays is equivalent to a 40-year-old waiting until they turn 50. When looked at from this relative perspective, it makes sense that time seems only to accelerate as we age.

Aside from the fact that one year represents a greater chunk of your life the younger you are, we also gauge time by memorable events. As fewer new things occur as we age, it makes it seem like childhood lasted longer. As we age, we tend to become more familiar with our environments and with life experiences more generally. The more novel stimuli there are, the longer our brains take to process the information. The corresponding period of time seems, at least in retrospect, to last longer.

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