Why Does Life Speed Up As You Get Older?
Posted on April 20, 2018

Of course time does not speed up as we get older, but the illusion in our brain is that it indeed speeds up. Years can fly by. Once we are past 40 or 50, a year seems to last a fraction it did when we were 15 or 20. Why? And can we change that illusion?


I checked out this this book in our library, Why Life Speeds Up As You Get Older: How Memory Shapes Our Past. Chapter 14 discussed the question. The answer: it’s an illusion in our brain that’s determined by the frequency and intensity of memorable events.


A French psychologist, Jean-Marie Guyau, in 1885 gave us some of the first insights as to the illusion of why time seems to speed up. The events of our youth were new and therefore intense and frequent. Each of year between the age of 15 and 25 was packed with memorable first-time events. We’ve revisited these events enough for them to become memory markers. A period of time that has more memory markers will expand when seen in retrospect and seems to have lasted longer than an equally long period with few memory markers. Old age, by contrast, is relatively unchanging; the weeks resemble one another; the months resemble one another; the monotony of life drags on. In our imagination, time is abridged. “What did I do with this year? How is it possible for the 365 days to have passed and seem no more than a couple of months?”


Here is Guyau’s recommendation: “If you want to lengthen the perspective of time, then fill it, if you have the chance, with a thousand new things. Abandon routine. Go on an exciting journey; rejuvenate yourself by breathing new life into the world around you. When you look back you will notice that the incidents along the way and the distance you have travelled have heaped up in your imagination; all these fragments of the visible world will form up in a long row, and that, as people say so fittingly, present you with a long stretch of time.”


A second observation is that desire or anticipation of an event makes the time to the event feel disproportionately long and time seems to lag. The conclusion: plan new events far into the future; as you anticipate them, time will seem to pass more slowly.


I’ve asked a number of retirees, “What’s the exciting trip or event you have planned for 2018?” I was really encouraged by the list of upcoming travel for the +70 year olds that I meet for coffee a couple of times a week. This list below is the travel plans for a total of roughly ten travelers (couples and singles). All of us shop at Costco, Aldi’s, and Trader Joe’s meaning that none of us are swimming in money, but all these folks have prioritized travel as a way to abandon the routine and to make 2018 a memorable year. All are living their retirement to the hilt. I like that attitude.


This is the chronological order starting January 1, 2018 for about ten travelers. I list the travel outside of the US. I’d include quite a few more visits to family and friends in the US, including a month long VRBO to visit family in Seattle.



Back to back tours that included Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand

Costa Rica

Hiking tour on the Isle of Wight, England

Hiking in the Lake District, England

Canada tour: train from Montreal to Vancouver.

Tour: boat travel in Portugal

Tour Japan with son and his family

Photography tour to Norway

Africa: Uganda and gorillas; Egypt and the Nile


Early 2019

Canada to see the Northern Lights

Two of the guys: fly fishing in Argentina


And also for Patti and me: our new, adopted dog, Dudley (shown with his first Nylabone®), is creating lots of first time memory markers! I’d forgotten the struggle to settle in with an adopted dog that’s had no prior regulation of behavior.



Conclusion: I wrote Nest Egg Care to help you maximize to joys of retirement. Live your retirement to the hilt. Spend (and gift) all your Safe Spending Amount every year. Many folks I know are living 2018 to the hilt, abandoning the routine with travel planned to family and to new places. They’re creating wonderful, varied memory markers. Do the same. That’s the way to Enjoy More.

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