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Carol's avatar

Why does time "speed up" as we age?

Asked by Carol (711 points ) May 28th, 2012

The reason usually given for the sensation of time going faster is that one year for a ten year old is ten percent of their life. One year of a fifty year old is two percent. The fact that we have memories of our lives supposedly crowds out the remaining available time.

This seems overly simplistic though. Are there other factors at play? What could they possibly be?

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29 Answers

JLeslie's avatar

There are several reasons. When we are older we are more aware of what is planned in the future. We have a doctor’s appointment next month, or a vacation planned in two months from now, or our mom is coming to visit over Thanksgiving. Children generally are only in the moment. For them time almost stands still while adults are always moving from past, to present to future in their thoughts. A lot of adults are basically waiting for the next break. The next weekend to roll around, the next vacation week, the next happy event, again not in the moment except for brief periods of time throughout the day and even year.

Also, adults have daily routines that blend the days together. The majority of an adult day is usually being at work 10 hours a day if we include commute time, and then surrounding that is waking up, getting read for work, getting home, unwinding a few hours and going to bed. The days pass in sort of a mindless hypnotic state in a way, and then all of a sudden a month has gone by, and then next you know it is already Halloween again and Christmas decorations are being put up in the stores.

The slowest years for me as an adult were the years I suffered with the most chronic pain. Almost every day was difficult, dissappointing, and had some sadness or anxiety. Time dragged. I couldn’t live unaware, I was aware of my day, my present, because of the pain. In retrospect those years blend into a blur, but during those years I felt almost every minute of the day as the minutes went by.

digitalimpression's avatar

Without getting too technical.. the older we get, the more prone to worrying about such things we get.

LostInParadise's avatar

It doesn’t seem fair, does it? It reminds me of the quotation from George Bernard Shaw that “Youth is wasted on the young.” For the very young, everything in the world is new. There is so much to learn. Their brains continue to develop, changing their capabilities and perspectives. And then there is the adolescent experience of sex hormones kicking in. It is only when we are older that we are in danger of being jaded and feeling that there is nothing new under the sun. I am sure that whoever wrote Ecclesiastes was way past youth.

rooeytoo's avatar

So much to do, so little time! I am busy all the time that is why it goes so quickly!

ragingloli's avatar

The older you get, the more braincells die, the less data your brain processes at a time, the less detail you perceive, the faster time seems to flow.
That is what I would think.

bookish1's avatar

I’ve thought about this alot. I’m young in years but I’ve had to grow up very quickly. I really think it is about relativity and perhaps personality development. When I was 17, a year was almost an eternity, because I was changing so much, and I was not the same person at the end of that year. Now that my personality is more stable, and I am at a period where I must plan for/worry about the future much more, years seem to be passing more quickly.

marinelife's avatar

We realize how precious time is.

We realize we have a finite amount of it.

Our lives are more crowded with doing rather than being as when we are younger.

Charles's avatar

It does speed up. Right now, with four kids 12 and under, I am aging at pi years per year.

CWOTUS's avatar

Here’s another reason: When you were a kid waiting for Christmas you assumed or knew that you were going to “get things”. There’s a lot of anticipation in that waiting for goodies.

As an adult you might think of Christmas in a whole new light: You have to get things for others. That means you have to plan shopping trips, decide what to get, and spend the money. Time seems to speed up sometimes for people who already have full schedules.

Aside from that, if you pay for those presents with credit, the end of the month – when the bills are due – (and the end of every succeeding month) seems to come faster and faster, too.

WestRiverrat's avatar

Time is relative too, when you are 5 a year is 20% of your lifespan, then you are 50 it is only 2% of your lifespan.

Sunny2's avatar

This is my theory. When you drive somewhere for the first time, you carefully follow the directions: turn right at the school, get on freeway 201, get off at exit 52, turn left at the second light etc. The next time you’re still check those markers. The more you go there, the more automatic it becomes and it seems to take less time to get there. Finally, the trip seems to take no time at all.
Life is like that trip and the holidays and seasons are the markers. The older you get, Thanksgiving is here again before you know it. Oh my gosh, it’s going to be the fourth of July next week! Each country has its own markers and time seems to go faster and faster for all of us.

bkcunningham's avatar

My dad is 92 years old. When he talks about time going faster the older you get, he says that he started out in the Model T age and is now in the space shuttle age.

JLeslie's avatar

@Sunny2 Great analogy. That is like the hypnotic state I mentioned.

Jaxk's avatar

If you want time to slow down, marry an accountant and move to Cleveland. Every day will be an eternity.

Nullo's avatar

I heard it put once that when you’re 10, a year is 1/10th of your experience to date, whereas when you’re 60, the same unit is 1/60th. The amount of relative time in a year decreases with age.

Jeruba's avatar

Some great examples here of not reading the details and posting in responses the same thing that the OP put into the question.

flutherother's avatar

When we are very young we are hardly aware of time. We live within a single golden moment. As we get older we develop a sense of what is meant by yesterday and tomorrow. Finally from the vantage point of a bath chair our minds encompass everything from the Big Bang to the darkness at the end of the Universe. It is all a question of perspective.

blueberry_kid's avatar

They grow up so fast…

The more we age, the less we feel like we have something to do with our lives…I would think. When we’re older we’re more conscientious as to what’s going on, and what’s happening. So, your day’s just fly by.

rob89ed's avatar

actually all time is based off of the moon rotation relative to the ocean tides. this is what we call our time ya know 4.00 and so forth but every year the moon moves farther away causing us to lose time, aprox. 15 seconds each year or somthing like that. it is also the cause of the leap year every four years also.

Carol's avatar

@ Charles. I would think that for you, time would be dragging!

Carol's avatar

@blueberry_kid Good Golly. I have more to do than I ever had before. I need another 2 or 3 lives to do everything that is there and then, to find out what else is out there.

Carol's avatar

@rob89ed

So does this mean that at some point, there won’t be any time at all? I better hurry up!

rob89ed's avatar

no we’ll just have to re asses the thought of time because of the current system dont panic

nonexpert's avatar

You get used to life, in simple terms.

Nullo's avatar

@Jeruba I answer the OP in the way that clicks. Lay off, why doncha?

Skaggfacemutt's avatar

I would agree with the original response that @Carol gave. Five years is half a lifetime to a 10-year-old, but a drop in the bucket for a 70-year-old.

mattbrowne's avatar

More and more daily situations are handled by our inner autopilot. We forget to live in the present. We lose the ability to be mindful and have to force ourselves to learn it again.

Sunny2's avatar

@Carol Yes, time runs out. When, is different for each individual. If you want to do something, get to it!

Carol's avatar

Nope.

There’s something else at play aside from the percentage of time you have left.

Something biological…I mean time, in the real sense, doesn’t exist, sort of. There must be some chemicals that signal our perception of time. That’s the kind of information I’m referring to.

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