By Leigh Morrow
Do you remember your summers as a youngster- out of school for what seemed like an endless length of time, days spent lying on the front lawn finding faces in the clouds and jumping through the sprinkler in your shorts? It seemed that time stopped and those warm summer days stretched infinitely forward in endless joy.
Part of that was our perception of time. Our perception of the passing of time speeds up the older we get. Some scientists say our lower dopamine levels cause us to experience time passing more rapidly, but it may be much more than that. Young children tend to live much more in the moment as their brain begins to develop, and start to process and arrange a collection of events that would suggest a passage of time. Scientists have discovered that for young children, a random day is perceived as longer because their experiences are new, and therefore the brain is more engaged.
For us mid-life adults, the same day may appear as much as 8 times shorter because our brain is usually engaged in the same mental routines and repetitive habits. By the time we reach here, in our mid-life, our stimulus is often an endless loop of “Groundhog Day” and that overstimulation by the same things renders the loop invisible. Your brain has mapped out those chores and routines like driving the same route to work over and over so often, that it becomes disengaged from the present moment. You are in a trance as you go about your day almost oblivious to the changing seasons, the shifting light, the months of the year. With less rich and varied memories to map, we perceive the passage of time to fly by.
Holidays, where you are completely removed from your present life, perhaps visiting a vastly contrasting country with colours, cuisine, landscapes and languages different from your own world, cause your brain to start firing and mapping these new unknown events. Time begins to slow, and days are thought to feel longer. By the end of our vacation we feel like we have been gone for much longer than our plane tickets indicate. This phenomenon and the science behind it are called “The Holiday Paradox” by Claudia Hammond, a British psychologist. Her findings show our ordinary day to day lives are so humdrum, we remember only 6-8 events every two weeks. However, on holiday, we are bombarded with different stimuli and experiences and we remember 6-8 events a DAY. Thus when we flip through the memory book of our last vacation, we have built so many more pages, we feel the vacation has lasted a long time, when in reality it may have been a short vacation of only a few days.
Memories, or more correctly the lack of them, explain why as we age we feel time is rushing by. Our best memory banking years are typically from teenager to mid-twenties when we are experiencing a lot of firsts.
First loves, first kisses, first jobs, all are registered differently because of their newness.
“You always remember your first love,” say the psychologists, but perhaps more for its newness than its depth or breadth of affection.
Eleanor Roosevelt said: “Do one thing every day that scares you.” While Eleanor was eloquently implying that to achieve personal growth, it is sometimes necessary to move outside your comfort zone, it is a fact that fear is one emotion that slows our perception of time down the most. When you are trapped in an elevator or your car slides off the road on an icy stretch of highway, your brain freezes every frame of the event and time moves in Planck time, the slowest measurement of time. It is no surprise then that adrenalin experiences like sky diving or zip lining are often the easy placebo for aging baby boomers. They get a thrill and a rush by doing an activity that requires specific focus because it is unfamiliar and daring. So while they fly along the jungle canopy, time slows down, and they feel alive!
However, adding seconds to our perception of time does not need to be as rebellious as leaping off the face of a building or swimming with sharks. It is easily achieved by simply going on vacation, to a place where much of the surroundings are foreign. If your vacation is to a culturally different land, where the sounds in the alleys and the smells from the street vendors are vastly different from those at home, then time will magically begin to slow, and wondrously you will be transported back to those seemingly endless summer days, hands crossed behind your head in the long grass, finding faces in the clouds. Like a trapeze artist, we can swing off the hands of time and slow our days down, by simply living each new and memorable experience we encounter on our travels.
Leigh Morrow is a Vancouver writer who operates Casa Mihale, a vacation rental in the quaint ocean front community of San Agustinillo, Mexico. Her house can be viewed and rented at www.gosanagustinillo.com