Life sometimes seems to fly by at a blistering pace, doesn’t it?
“I can’t believe we’ve lived here for almost two decades,” my mom once told me about the house they seemingly moved into yesterday.
“The days are long, but the years are short,” a friend recently shared about watching her kids grow from toddlers to adolescents practically overnight.
It might not feel like it every day (especially when we’re endlessly refreshing investment account balances or counting down the days until our next work holiday), but the older we get, the more quickly the years seem to pass.
Is there any way to combat the perception of this merciless acceleration? How can we make our limited time on this earth seem to last as long as possible?
A few years back, Scientific American shared some hypotheses as to why time seems to move more quickly with each passing year.
One of the most notable is the evolving ratio of one’s age to the amount of time passed. For a three-year-old counting down the days until Christmas morning, a month or two is practically an eternity. For a fifty-year-old, the same amount of time is a relative drop in the bucket. Good luck changing that one.
The most interesting to me, though, is the idea that “we gauge time by memorable events.” Think of all the “firsts” that take place in our early years: first days of school, first friendships, first loves, first times away from home. Childhood is a series of new experiences, and the barrage of novelty slows time to a crawl.
In contrast, how many “firsts” have you had this month? This year?
When I was working 60 hours a week, the individual days sometimes seemed neverending, but months could vanish in the blink of an eye. Long-term deadlines I had put off were suddenly overdue. Friends with whom I had intended to stay in touch quickly became long-lost acquaintances. The lack of new experiences in my life was rarely more apparent than when I’d see a friend or family member after a few months. “What’s new?” they might ask. “Hm, not much. Same old, same old,” I would respond.
This past year, on the other hand, was easily one of the longest of my life. It wasn’t because we got a leap day thrown in (or even the leap second added on New Year’s Eve). Nor was it because of endless election coverage followed by the stress and divisiveness of the past few months (though if that’s a factor, 2017 is sure to be the longest year yet!)
I suspect it’s because we enjoyed a deluge of new experiences – more than I’ve had for years.
Waking up in an empty National Park at sunrise. Wandering Bourbon Street on a Saturday night. Buying street food in Istanbul. Driving in an Albanian traffic jam. Breaking down in rural Arizona. Getting woken up by the police in Wisconsin. Drinking with French tourists in Sarajevo. Hiking through a herd of bison in Yellowstone.
When we returned from Turkey and Eastern Europe at the end of the summer, I could hardly believe we had been traveling for only six months. Even half a year was a life-changing experience. It felt like we had done a lifetime’s worth of sightseeing and exploration. It felt like I hadn’t worked for years.
The best way to slow down time – to live longer, figuratively speaking – is to add novelty into your life as often as possible.
Maybe you can’t drop everything to travel the world, and maybe you don’t want to. That’s fine; you don’t need to take crazy leaps like ours to keep life interesting. How about signing up for a class? Taking a new way home from work? Exploring a new neighborhood? Picking a different vacation destination? Going for a hike on a weekday evening? Trying a new restaurant on the other side of town?
When something becomes routine, maybe it’s time to break it. Perhaps full-time travel will become our stagnant routine eventually, too. Then it’ll be time for the next adventure.
What “firsts” are you pursuing?