Have you been cruising? I have some friends who have been on dozens of cruises, and some friends who won’t even dare to get on a ship. Fear of eating too much? Fear of getting sick? Beats me.
To me, a cruise is the optimal vacation. Our ship stops at three ports in Mexico and Leslie and I probably won’t get off the ship at any port. We could walk around Puerto Vallarta and find outstanding chips and salsa and margaritas, or we could sit on a lounge chair in the pool area and read or nap or eat. Or all three.
We took this exact cruise last year and, in fact, we’re staying in the same cabin. (Hopefully, Carnival will have fixed the couch by now!) So I’ve spent the last few days thinking about the buffet breakfast and the pool area. I can picture it clearly, since it seems like we were on the 2017 cruise just a few short weeks ago. But this proves to me, one more time, how quickly times goes by.
Why does life seem to pass more quickly as we get older? A cognitive psychologist might give the answer to this time-fleeting phenomenon as follows: the early years are full of first-time events – your first date, the birth of your first child, that first big vacation, etc. First occasions are novel events and we tend to make more detailed and lasting memories of those first times. When we repeat the event, year after year, it is less likely to make a unique or lasting impression.
The doctor goes on to say that this doesn’t just happen with life events. We can observe the same phenomenon in a shorter space of time. For instance, the first couple of days of a two-week vacation seem long and leisurely, and the time goes slowly. You’re thankful that you have two long weeks of this. But, the next thing you know, it’s almost over and you are heading home!
Philip Yaffe writes: “It is a widely accepted adage that, ‘The older you get, the faster time seems to go.’ But why should aging have this effect? After all, there is the parallel adage that, ‘Time flies when you’re having fun.’ But as we age, time flies whether we are having fun or not.”
There are psychological and philosophical reasons for fleeting time. But Yaffe ultimately found the answer. It all has to do with anticipation and retrospection. The nature of our individual lives, we all anticipate things important to us. Then after they happen, we look back at them. For example, most school children look forward to the long summer vacation, which always seems to be an eternity away. Finally, it arrives. Then, almost before they blink an eye, it’s over and they are back in school again. And so it goes. When anticipated, each new significant event seems to be excruciatingly far away. However, after the event, we regularly look back and exclaim: Did it really happen that long ago?
The older we get, the more milestones we have to look back on. The farther and faster they appear to recede. So if sometimes the clock may seem to have stopped, the calendar always continues racing ahead. We have all had milestones in our lives. While we may not feel old, many of those milestones look like ancient history.
If accumulating milestones is truly the secret of the accelerating years, what do we do about it? Basically nothing; we just have to accept it. However, this is not necessarily a negative. True, the good things are coursing away faster and faster into the past. But so are the not-so-good things.