The holiday paradox: how to slow down time

Would you rather live until 100 and feel like you’ve not lived long enough or 80 and feel like you’ve lived a long life? At the end of the day isn’t the sense of time more important than the amount of it?

Time perception is studied by neuroscientists and they know that it’s subjective, so for you; one week, one month, a year or a lifetime can feel much longer or shorter than for me. I’m sure I’m not alone when I sit back and reflect on how quickly another year has passed. Or being confused and thinking something happened not that long ago but it turned out to be one, two, or three years ago.

The quote “The days are long, but the years are short” is the idea that time can drag in the short term but over the long term go quickly. I experienced this sensation over the Covid pandemic. It certainly wasn’t the case that time was going quickly each day stuck at home in lockdown, however, after a year had passed it was hard to believe that time had gone so quickly. The reason for this is simple; very few memories were being created or put another way: I was bored.

As we age it’s common to feel that time moves quicker compared to when we were young (when things were more eventful and less routine). This feeling of time slippage when getting older can undoubtedly lead to regret. The well-known expression “Time flies when you are having fun” is a misnomer. It’s the reverse: time flies when there’s not much going on in your life. Or put another way: “Routine life makes the days long, but the years short”.

The holiday paradox

A few years ago when I holidayed in Thailand, I remembered thinking to myself at the end of my trip that I had been there for ages — it felt significantly longer than 14 days (the reverse of my Covid experience). I put this down to an eventful 2 weeks which created many new memories.

BBC broadcaster and academic psychologist, Claudia Hammond calls this the “holiday paradox”. She told the British Psychological Society’s conference that our lives are normally so mundane that only six to nine experiences a fortnight are worth committing to memory compared to six to nine memories per day when we are on holiday. The renowned neuroscientist David Eagleman discusses this topic in the five-minute clip below which is well worth watching.

David Eagleman on how to slow down time (5 minutes)
How to waste life

If you can’t remember much from last year (or any year for that matter) then was that year a waste of life?

As we age life becomes more routine; financial and family commitments mean we’re required to become sensible and sacrifice our best and healthy remaining years to our careers.

I can think of many years (probably decades) that are empty of memories. Not because I’m forgetful but because nothing noteworthy happened other than the usual slog: go to work, go to the supermarket, occasional night out + a couple of holidays.

“Where has the week gone?” and “I can’t believe it’s Friday already” are phrases we hear at work all the time. The person saying this is sometimes sending a veiled message about how busy or in demand they are. I could never be bothered to play stupid status games in the office, however, I never had reason to disbelieve their claim that their week from a time perception perspective had gone quickly. From my experience, all weeks working in the office or WFH went quickly and those weeks quickly turned into months and then years.

Living an uneventful life is a surefire way of creating a chasm, a void, a black hole of emptiness in your mind, which may feel like a few years but can turn into a few decades.

Making a change

That feeling of time slowing when in Thailand stayed with me ever since. It made me conscious of how time was slipping away from me when I was back home doing the daily grind.

Since then I’ve escaped working in an office and I try to live a life that warrants forging more memories. I recently returned from a long stay in Sri Lanka where I experienced the “holiday paradox” once again. It really did feel like I’d been there for several months after I’d only been there for a few weeks. I was creating many new memories and meeting lots of new people which caused the same perception of time slowing as I had in Thailand.

I used to desire more money but now I desire more memories and relationships — something I have neglected for too long. Although more money creates more comfort and security, it can come at the higher cost of not living your life. And I’m confident that the continued pursuit of money, comfort and security will lead to a life that wasn’t long enough.

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6 thoughts on “The holiday paradox: how to slow down time

  1. Hi Richard
    I have been focusing on business 80 hours at the cost of family friends and memories
    Once this project is done I’m going to review how I’m living my life.
    I recently did a trip to Morocco then Barcelona which did have some great memories but was slightly tainted due to the thought of how much work I was going to come back to while away‍♂️
    I’m glad you have slowed down time and made some great memories I’m going to make sure I get utilise the holiday paradox soon.

  2. Another cracking post Richard. I always look out for your material since finding you as it resonates with me.

    Good to hear you had a great time in Sri Lanka. Have you explored temporary work as we discussed previously?

    I completely agree with this re the Holiday Paradox. As mentioned previously we spend around 7-8 weeks travelling through Europe a year. Time goes so slow; especially in the Summer. Long, warm days, new experiences daily and no life pressure. When at home the weeks fly by but the output is more of routine and consistency.

    I think both are healthy in reality but many in modern society are neglecting the Holiday or are choosing an experience which perhaps doesn’t give them the life experience you gain from taking a trip elsewhere.

    How do you plan to develop more memories and relationships when back in the UK?


    1. Hi Ryan,

      Thank you.

      I’ve not researched temporary work yet, my mum passed away at the beginning of March so I’ve mostly been dealing with that. I’ll look into it more when things are more settled.

      I agree we need both, always being on holiday sounds nice but I don’t think it would be. We need the rough with the smooth to appreciate the smooth!

      Good question regarding memories in the UK. I plan to explore the UK which is something I’ve never done; go camping, surfing and exploring the countryside — the summer is the perfect time for that. I met people from Devon, Cornwall and Wales when in Sri Lanka so I may meet up with them for a surf. It should be cheap and it feels like it should be fun. Let’s see!

      Take care

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