Perception of Time

October 28, 2006

You can perceive time as it’s passing (a lecture seems like it takes longer than a TV show of the same length), or after the fact (on Monday morning sometimes it seems like the weekend zipped by, and at other times like Friday was weeks ago). Strangely, these two seem to be inverses. If you fill your weekend with many fun things, it will seem to pass quickly, but on Monday morning it will seem to have taken a long time. But if you do nothing, it will crawl by and yet seem to have flashed by.

The same is true of larger events. The year Jen and I spent in England seemed, to us, to have been a very large chunk of our lives. But those who had stayed in the U.S. were surprised to see us back so soon. “It’s been a year already?” That’s how people wake up one day and realize that they’re 60 years old and their kids are grown up. “It all went by so quickly!” Maybe they didn’t fill their lives with enough fun things.

Assuming that you want to end your life feeling like it took a very long time, then you need to do lots of things. Your life must be varied, moving from place to place, having lots of different jobs. It’s the static day-to-day living that, in retrospect, seems to have flown by. I think that’s also why people perceive their schooling years to have gone more slowly then their professional lives.