Wasn’t this the fastest August ever? You probably said that last year, too, and you’ll probably be saying it again next year. It’s not a particularly new conversation, either. The 19th-century French philosopher Jean-Marie Guyau questioned the idea of why life seems to speed up as we get older, and he decided that time is essentially just a product of our own imagination. And that’s all well and good, but it still doesn’t tell us why we feel this way.
Stress seems to make us feel like time is speeding up, or that it has sped up in the past.
A new paper—aptly titled “Why Does Life Appear to Speed Up as People Get Older?”—from Steve Janssen and a team of researchers tries to find an answer. A group of 868 Japanese volunteers, between the ages of 16 and 80, filled out two questionnaires. The first asked the participants how fast time seemed to pass; the second questioned whether the participants commonly felt busy, rushed, or unable to complete things.
The vast majority of participants felt that time was flying by. Those who were currently stressed reported that time was passing quickly in short intervals, and the average subject felt busier now, compared with 10 years ago. “People seem to use present time pressure when reporting how fast the previous week, month or year has passed,” Janssen writes, “and past time pressure when reporting how fast the previous 10 years have passed.” In short: Stress seems to make us feel like time is speeding up, or that it has sped up in the past.
Combine that with how stressed we are on the whole—in 2009, 69 percent of U.S. employees reported work as a significant source of stress—and how reading that statistic will probably make you even more stressed, and, well, here we are. So maybe the realistic cure for slowing down time isn’t manipulating our genes, as some have suggested, but easing our strained and overly-agitated minds. With life being inherently stressful, though, it’s going to take baby steps. Cue the cute animal videos.