If you find in past years you have gone to bed after Thanksgiving dinner and when you wake up snow is on the ground and it’s Christmas Eve, and you only have a faint memory of Halloween, it’s likely because these holidays have stuck in your memory while the weeks between have been routine and, literally, forgettable.
Time runs at a constant rate. Our perception of it, however, can vary wildly. As anyone who can vividly remember every moment of a miraculous summer can attest, our memories can play a crucial role in affecting that perception. “I call it the holiday paradox,” says Claudia Hammond, author of Time Warped: Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception.
We’re all familiar with the paradox. When you are frolicking on vacation, experiencing new and exciting things every moment of the day, time seems to fly by. But then, once you’re home and looking back on your wonderful trip, “it feels as if you’ve been away for ages,” Hammond says. “One thing we do know that’s very strong about the link between time and memory is that one of the ways we judge how much time is passing is by how many new memories we’ve made.”
This helps explain why time seems to race by the older we get. When we are younger, we are always doing new and novel things, creating an abundance of memories that stick in the mind like flags marking our journey through time. As we get older, we tend to fall into routines and usually don’t accumulate as many new memories.
The more novel or exciting a memory, the more likely we are to remember it. It is why we all can remember our first kiss but are probably fuzzy at best when it comes to our 20th.
We perceive time in two different ways, Hammond says. Prospective time estimation refers to how fast or slow we think time is going right now. Then there is retrospective time estimation, which requires a person to give an estimation of elapsed time after finishing a task. Things like boredom and excitement can affect a person’s prospective time estimation (If you really want to drag things out, focus on time’s passing, Hammond says).
Meanwhile, one of the biggest influencers of retrospective time estimation is the number of new memories we’ve made over the course of a given period. The more memories we create, the longer time seems to stretch.
“In a way, if you want to slow time down,” Hammond says, “you need to do lots of new things.” To stretch out your perception of the season’s passing, you’ll need to chase novelty, Hammond says. Fall can be so cozy it slips by too quickly.
“Doing lots of new things is more tiring than staying home for the weekend,” she says.Report Typo/Error