How Mindfulness Shifts Our Perception of Time

The passage of time seems to speed up as we get older—but research finds this unnerving phenomenon may be allayed by learning to more attentively savor all the familiar details of our lives.

Edmon de Haro

Imagine a woman, well into her seventh decade of life but still mentally sharp, taking her grandson on his first walk along the beloved beach where she has lived for years. The little boy hears the roar of the surf, the screech of seagulls; he sees sand and sand castles, families under beach umbrellas, toddlers scampering away from the incoming tide, a carpet of tiny shells and garlands of shiny brown seaweed; he smells the briny, metallic air. To him, many things happened. The grandmother, in contrast, experiences these details much less distinctly. This means that for her, just one thing happened: another beach walk.

The difference between the grandmother’s and the boy’s subjective experiences of the identical physical experience offers a tantalizing clue to something that explorers of the human condition, from novelists to psychologists, have puzzled over: why our sense of the passage of time speeds up as we age. You’ve almost certainly experienced it. How can I have been working here for 10 years, when it feels like employee orientation was only yesterday? you ask. Where did the summer go? you wonder. And in your darker moments, Where did my life go? You don’t need to be…