As a writer of educational articles with a Master of Science degree, I share my philosophical studies of social sciences and humanities.
When we are young, days can feel like an eternity. As we grow older, our perception of time changes. Sometimes, even weeks might zoom by in what seems, upon reflection, only a matter of hours. In this article, we look at the following eight credible reasons why we experience time going faster as we age, a phenomenon that we all eventually experience:
8 Legitimate Reasons Why Time Moves Quicker as We Age
- We Measure Periods of Time in Ratios
- Repetitive Tasks Make Our Days More Monotonous
- Fewer New Experiences Cause a Void in Time Perception
- Time Pressure Affects Our Perception
- We Fill Our Adult Time With Chores
- Our Anticipation of Future Events Diminishes
- A Warped Sense of Time Is Caused by Watching Old TV Shows
- Einstein Had an Idea About Time Perception
1. We Measure Periods of Time in Ratios
As we grow older, periods of our lives diminish into smaller and smaller segments of our entire life span.
Here is a simple example that should make this clear:
- When you were ten years old, the last ten years represented your entire life.
- When you're 40, the last ten years represent only a quarter of your life.
- When you're 60, the last ten years represent only one-sixth of your life.
That's a small fraction, and the same period will become a smaller and smaller segment of your life as you age.
Here's another way to explain how ratios affect our judgment:
When we grow up from, say, five years old until we are ten, we doubled our age. We feel that a lot of time had gone by. After all, we just doubled our age!
Then when we continue through life from ten to twenty, once again, we doubled our age. But wait! What's different now? That prior period was just five years. Now all of a sudden, it was ten years!
Now consider aging twenty to forty. We doubled our age again, but this time twenty years has passed!
Every time we double our age, twice as many years go by. That is the ratio effect.
We think of the last phase at the same length of time. However, that phase is twice the length of time as the previous phase of our lives.
The ratio keeps shrinking, causing the illusion that time is speeding up.
2. Repetitive Tasks Make Our Days More Monotonous
When we were very young, every day was filled with new discoveries and learning experiences. We look back on that and visualize time filled with memories.
As we get older, we lack the constant discovery of new experiences we had every day in our childhood.1
Our days become more monotonous with repetitive tasks, and we spend much less time on new experiences. That doesn’t leave a fulfilling memory of any sort to look back on. It almost becomes an empty feeling of the recent past days.
When we allow this kind of a void in our lives, we have nothing much to look back on. That causes us to have a feeling that time has passed by more quickly.
3. Fewer New Experiences Cause a Void in Time Perception
Claudia Hammond, the author of “Time Warped: Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception,” explains that as we get older, we have fewer new experiences.2
When we look back on the prior week or the previous year, we see fewer memorable events to fill that period than we had decades earlier.
A newborn is continually filling each moment with learning something new. In our formative years, we are cramming each day with learning and experiencing something new. Therefore, when we look back on the prior week or month, we have lots of memories. The effect is that time had moved on very slowly.
As we get older, we fill our time with fewer new experiences, so we can’t recall anything of value from what we did in the previous year. Therefore, our impression is that time is whizzing by since our years seem more void of refreshing experiences. That void causes the illusion that time is shrinking.
4. Time Pressure Affects Our Perception
In a Scientific American article, the author refers to a study published by Steve Janssen, William Friedman, and Makiko Naka (Hokkaido University in Japan).3
They questioned 868 participants, comparing their feeling “time pressure” in their lives ten years ago and currently.
They discovered that the notion of “time pressure” contributed significantly to their perception of time. The results also showed that age made no difference. Those who felt time pressure ten years ago had as much sense that time was flying by as later in life.
The conclusion is that feeling pressure for lack of time to perform tasks has a greater impact on the sense that time goes faster. Merely being older has little to do with it.
5. We Fill Our Adult Time With Chores
Children have fewer responsibilities to fill their days, and time feels like it drags on for that reason.
As we get older, we certainly never have the time to complete our chores and other tasks we want to do. Therefore, we always feel like we're running out of time.
Looking back on that leaves the illusion that time must be going faster.
6. Our Anticipation of Future Events Diminishes
When we’re younger, we look forward to the next significant accomplishment in our life, such as getting a driver’s license, graduating college, getting married, advancing in a career, and so on. That anticipation of one event after another causes time to appear slow.
But when we are older and have fewer years ahead of us, that anticipation declines. The lack of anticipation makes time seem to fly by because we are not spending every minute of every day thinking what our life will be like in ten or twenty years.
7. A Warped Sense of Time Is Caused by Watching Old TV Shows
We live in a time when we have a device that causes a warped sense of time. That device is a television. As we grow up, we watch shows with a series lasting anywhere from a year to many years, even decades.
Then as the years go by, the shows are repeated, even after the original actors have died. But we watch the repeats, and we don’t have the feeling of the passage of time. We are oblivious to that.
Without thinking much about it, our beloved stars remain fixed at a young age. They don’t grow old with the rest of us. So we overlook that they have aged the same as you and me. Some even have passed away.
We continue to put ourselves into a trance as we watch old television shows from the early days.
So, where are we? We’re getting older and suddenly notice a lot of years have passed. That’s warping our sense of time.
8. Einstein Had an Idea About Time Perception
Albert Einstein mathematically showed that time slows down the faster one moves. In October 1971, scientists proved his theory by carrying an atomic clock in an airplane going eastward and another westward.
These clocks were compared to a reference atomic clock on Earth at the U.S. Naval Observatory. The eastward flying clock lost approximately 59 nanoseconds, and the westward clock gained about 273 nanoseconds.4
Besides, the clock on Earth is traveling 1,000 miles per hour since that's how fast the Earth is rotating, and that difference is relative to the entire situation.
While we are happily going about our lives on Earth, we wouldn't be aware of those speed differences due to motion because it's all relative.
Within our frame of reference, any changes to the speed of time would be completely unnoticed due to the relativity theory.
Okay, I admit, I threw that one at you. But I was leading up to a little levity while on the subject:
When Einstein was young, his wife had complained that it was over so fast when they were having sex. Einstein said to her, "It's all relative."
As adults, we fill our days with lots of responsibilities, and we often tend to lose track of time. If we don’t pay attention, we might be late for an important meeting and we wonder where the time went.
As I discussed, there are many explanations for the experience we all seem to have with time speeding up as we age. In my opinion, the most critical is the lack of new experiences that fill our time. It’s a good reason to make an effort to seek new activities to occupy our time in our old age.
- Richard A. Friedman. (July 20, 2013). Fast Time and the Aging Mind. - The New York Times
- Claudia Hammond. (May 28, 2013). “Time Warped: Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception” - Harper Perennial; Reprint edition
- Jordan Gaines Lewis. (December 18, 2013). “Why Does Time Fly as We Get Older?” - Scientific American
- J.C. Hafele and R. E. Keating, Science 177, 166 (1972)
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2014 Glenn Stok
Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on January 25, 2019:
Sherry Hewins - Very interesting! I can’t say that she’s wrong, because it actually makes sense. lol.
Sherry Hewins from Sierra Foothills, CA on January 25, 2019:
It's funny, my 83 year old mom has a theory that time really is speeding up. Her evidence, everyone says so. She says people don't really live longer than they did in the past, it's just that time is going faster. They live more years, but the same amount of time.
Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on January 25, 2019:
Ken Burgess - That's an extremely good explanation. Responsibilities definitely take time away from self-indulging activities. That sure is another reason for experiencing time going faster. It's a pure lack of time remaining.
Ken Burgess from Florida on January 25, 2019:
Interesting article, a topic I have considered of an on the past few years.
I would say much has to do with what you are doing, as you noted, is it all repetitive, is life stagnant, is there a lack of new activities or discoveries?
If so, time will pass quickly.
I also think as adults we are ladened with more responsibilities and have to compartmentalize our days and months for jobs, holidays, etc. time belongs less to us and more to other responsibilities leaving little time to do what we want, which is not something experienced by children (tho they do have to contend with school).
Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on September 27, 2017:
Rochelle Frank - I'm just a few years behind you and I have the same feeling.
Rochelle Frank from California Gold Country on September 27, 2017:
I think your ideas on our experience of time as a percentage of our life are right on and have also seen the train analogy as making sense to my "unscientific" mind.
I can remember having a lucid "now" moment when I was seven years old, thinking that people lived about 70 years and I had about 10 times that much time left.
Now that I am past 70, it seems like quite a short time ago.
Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on November 03, 2014:
Nathanville - Being that you have a knowledge of quantum physics, it means a lot to me that you found this well-written. Thank you for the feedback.
Arthur Russ from England on November 03, 2014:
A most engaging article; with quantum physics being one of my interests I spent the ‘time’ to read this well written article a pleasurable read.
Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on October 28, 2014:
Iris Draak - Thanks, I thought this was a pretty valid explanation why time goes faster as we age, but other reasons as just as plausible.
Cristen Iris from Boise, Idaho on October 28, 2014:
Glenn, that is interesting. I particularly liked your idea of time going faster being a ratio thing. You certainly gave me a new way of thinking about things. Interesting.
Glenn Stok (author) from Long Island, NY on October 27, 2014:
MsDora - Laughter is good. Glad you enjoyed it.
Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on October 27, 2014:
You managed to make me laugh even while I'm straining my mind to take it all in. The section of the acceleration of time really gets my attention! Wonderful thoughts. Excellent read!