"Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. That’s relativity."
When I was a boy, summer vacation lasted forever.
I still remember the neighbor’s crab apple tree in Perth Amboy that Johnnie Yuro and I raided. I still can see the dappled afternoon sunlight through the branches that we climbed. It seems to me now that we were at that tree every day, and the apples – and the days -- were never-ending.
But last week’s summer solstice -- the longest day of the year -- passed in a wink.
Today is June 28, and I feel like summer is already half over
One explanation for this is that everything is new when we are young, so we pay more attention and have more detailed and lasting memories. It feels, consequently, like time expands.
With age, new experiences are fewer and life tends to be same-old-same-old. So time seems to pass more quickly.
What about the truism that time flies when you’re having fun?
Why does an hour on the lounge chair go by so much faster than an hour in the dentist’s chair?
When I’m up until two in the morning trying to come up with a joke for a speech, why is it so much different from drinking vodka until two?
Well, in a 1992 study, researchers found that when listeners enjoyed a piece of music, time seemed to slow down for them. Perhaps when we enjoy music we listen more carefully, getting lost in it. Greater attention leads to perception of a longer interval of time.
People also say the years pass more quickly as we age. My Aunt Sally used to say that first the years start to fly by, then the decades. Life has also been likened to a roll of toilet paper -- the closer you get to the end, the faster it goes.
Psychological studies do, in fact, demonstrate that time passes more quickly as we grow older.
One study found that twenty-somethings can pretty accurately guess an interval of three minutes.
But sixty-somethings overestimate it by enough to show that time is passing about 20% more quickly for them.
There is a bright spot in all this otherwise depressing talk: It is actually within our power to squeeze more living out of life.
The Mayo Clinic -- in a report appearing in this week’s edition of JAMA Neurology -- found among other things that higher levels (at least three times per week) of mid- and late-life reading, social activities and computer activities might delay the onset of cognitive impairment by almost nine years.
Richard A. Friedman of the Weill Cornell Medical College puts it bluntly:
“If you want time to slow down, become a student again. Learn something that requires sustained effort; do something novel. Put down the thriller when you’re sitting on the beach and break out a book on evolutionary theory or Spanish for beginners or a how-to book on something you’ve always wanted to do. Take a new route to work; vacation at an unknown spot. And take your sweet time about it.”
Me? I’m learning Italian.
In my next blog: “Food Fight”