The Passage of Time

David EideOpinions Writer

As I write this article, I am preparing to start my final year on the Hill, after which I will be moving on into the great unknown that is adult life.  On the other hand, most of you who will be reading this article are going to be first-years just starting your college career.  Being in this particular situation has caused me to think about how we perceive time and how understanding that can help us live better and more fulfilling lives.  I’m hoping that some of what I’ll discuss comes in handy during your first year, I know it would have been helpful for me at the very least.

Starting off, there’s one very important fact you should know about time in college: it goes by very fast. There are moments where I feel like my sophomore and junior years were essentially blips, as if one moment I was attending orientation and then the next I’m nearly done with the year.  Of course, there are some extenuating circumstances in my case- I spent the entire second half of my first year at home under lockdown and most of sophomore and junior year under COVID protocols, so not exactly a normal couple of years. Despite all that, I can’t help but think that I wouldn’t feel much differently even if those years had been completely normal and not derailed by a global tragedy.  Four years may seem like a long time, but in the grand scheme of things it really isn’t much at all.  I think college is the first time that a lot of people realize that fact as they begin to move forward into the rest of their lives.  I know personally that high school felt like it dragged on for ages despite it being the exact same amount of time that I’ve spent in college.  

Research has shown that people tend to perceive time as going by faster as they age.  The most convincing explanation for this phenomenon takes into account the proportionality of years that we experience.  During the first couple of years of our life, a single year makes up a huge amount of our total time lived as compared to later in our lives when a single year is a much smaller percentage of our total time lived.  This seems to indicate that college flying by may just be a simple side effect of the changing ways in which our brains process time.  I hope that your time at Gustavus flies by because you’re having such a good time rather than the reasons outlined above!

That does actually provide a useful segue to the second topic regarding time that I was interested in exploring.  Namely how we perceive time on a moment-by-moment basis and how we can potentially influence that.  I’m sure you’ve noticed that time tends to fly by when you’re doing something really fun while the seconds just drag by when you’re doing something that you find extremely boring.  Interestingly enough however, this dichotomy is usually swapped in retrospect, with boring days quickly fading away while exciting days that you enjoyed are usually etched into your memory.  The reason this seems to occur is because when you’re bored the only thing you focus on is the (slow) passage of time which makes it seem much longer while during fun moments you’re not focused on the passage of time at all which makes it seem to go by faster.  Remembering boring days would essentially be a waste of brain space.  The consequence of this is that in retrospect, boring days seem to be a blip while exciting days occupy a lot of memory space.

I think this fact is pretty easily applied to our everyday lives. Getting out there and seizing the day may initially make time fly by, but ultimately it will seem like it lasted far longer than just a day sitting around and being bored out of your skull.  This will also end up affecting your broader perception of time if you do it enough, if your memory is full of exciting and interesting days then it has been scientifically shown that you will actually perceive time slower.  So basically, if you want to feel like you’re living longer, have more fun.

College is a very exciting time, one in which you can enjoy many of the benefits of adulthood without having to deal with the responsibilities that actually come with adult life. With the right mindset, it can be both a last hurrah for your years in schooling and a useful preview for the rest of your life.  Hopefully this little bit of advice regarding time management and perspective can aid in helping you develop said mindset and have a great first semester at GAC!