November 3, 2021
The last two years have seemed like the longest years I’ve experienced in my life. More than a few jokes were told about 2020 being the worst year ever between the murder hornets, Covid, lockdowns, toilet paper shortages, a crazy election, etc. By this time last year, it seemed as though 2020 was never going to end. There’s an interesting principle behind that idea that relates to our perception of the passing of time. It is a well known maxim that years go by faster and faster as you get older. Human brain research has uncovered the reason for this illusion, and it explains why 2020 seemed so much longer than normal. Earlier in our lives, we experience all sorts of novel, new things. From our first kiss to graduating high school to our first real job, these major life events create marking points for our memories to pick out our earlier years. Those years seem longer because we can remember so many distinct events in them. However, as we age, novel experiences become fewer and farther between. This creates the illusion in our brains that time is going by faster, when in reality, it is just that most of the time blurs together because of the repetition that takes place. 2020 seemed to go on forever because every week was something new and unprecedented. Every other day brought an insane news story. Life still hasn’t really gone back to normal. The positive of the strange time we are living in is that it gives us a great illustration as to how our memories work. It also can teach us how to live the rest of our lives so that we slow down the passing of the calendar days. New experiences and adventures create landmarks in our memories. That’s why your early days of parenting seem so much slower and the later years go by so quickly. We get comfortable and the time slips by. The trick then is to do new things. Go hiking in new places. Learn to cook. Take your kids to museums. Learn a new hobby. Have conversations. Whatever it is you do with your time that is new and done together with people who are important to you will tether those moments into your mind. The added benefit of this approach to our day to day lives is that it gives us something better today. I never get to the end of the day and remember fondly how my kids and I sat in different rooms looking at our phones. During the lockdowns, I taught our oldest to cook mac and cheese one day. I spend a week with the kids watching a tv series about which animals would win in a fight against other animals. We played board games. We made up games. Every day was weird and crazy. It was the longest year ever, but it was pretty great for my family’s time together. It’s important to note that this way of approaching life requires much more effort. That’s why we don’t do it. It’s easier to simply do the same thing over and over again. It requires less energy and mental investment. However, it’s that investment that makes the days stand out so well.