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Life is Short Indeed

Life is shorter than I had originally imagined. That’s not because of any differences in the average life expectancy, but because of our perception of time. It looks like Albert Einstein was right… time is relative.

The above figure shows how the average life span for most parts of the world is increasing every year. From this figure, you can assume that if you’re blessed with good health, and this trend continues, our generation will be able to live until we’re at least 80 years old right? But is that 80 years really going to feel like 80 years? Probably not, because as almost any grown-up can tell you, your perception of time accelerates as you age. Let me elaborate…

Do you remember what it felt like to be 5 years old? To me the world was revolving very slowly back then. I remember the first time I saw autumn leaves changing colors, and my mom casually explained to me how that happens once a year around that time, but to me it felt like magic. Then when all the leaves fell off and it began to snow, I would stare out the window fascinated. A part of me was worried that things were going to stay that cold forever, but then after what seemed like an eternity, spring finally rolled around and things became green again. Those were wonderful times where everything felt completely new to me, and every little thing was a new experience. Everything moved so slowly because I was only 5 years old and one year was 20% of my life. That means 20% of my life experiences happened in a year! Now when it snows outside I curse under my breath because I know that I’ll have to stand in the cold and wipe snow off the windshield of my car before I drive to work. Snow is just a pain in the ass for me because it means they’re going to salt the roads and it’ll rust my car faster. Now snow is nothing but frozen rain that might increase the chances of an accident for me or for another driver which will affect me by congesting traffic during my already annoying commute to work. At my age, snow is nothing new. The magic is gone.

Now I’m 29 and a year goes by in a hurry. That’s because 1 year now only contains 1/29th of my life experiences. Since time is just measured in experiences we have in our memories, then this past year moved 29 times faster than the first year of my life did. Think about it… when I was 5 years old, 1 year was 1/5th of my life experiences, and 20% of my life, so it moved 5x as fast as the first year which was 1/1 of my life and 100% of my life experiences. Likewise, at age 29, time is moving 29x as fast as the first year. If we adjust everything for this relativity in time the way discounted cash-flows are adjusted for inflation, then 80 years certainly won’t feel like 80 years. It’s a lot shorter depending on what year you choose as your basis year that you take everything relative to. If you want to know how long your life would feel relative to how long the first year of your life felt here’s the derivation:

Wow! To an infant, your entire life will only feel like 4.97 years!

Of course, that probably doesn’t sound too intuitive to you, because it’s not. At age 1, our brains aren’t even developed enough to grasp the experiences around us, so to find a better measurement of the relative length of a lifetime, we should set our basis year to an age when we start to fully appreciate the experiences around us. Let’s choose age 8 as our basis year.


(notice we set the first 7 years as constant without any adjustment)

So if you know an 8 year old kid, you can tell him that his life will only feel like 25.98 years, assuming he lives to be 80. It will be morbid news and he’ll probably run away crying, but you might as well break the bad news to him while he’s young.

If you’re 29 like me then 80 years will only feel like 58.11 years.

Remember, for this case, it is assuming that one year feels as long as the year when you went from 28 to 29.

On new years day a couple years ago, my dad was just sitting around reading the newspaper, and I said to him, “It’s a new year dad!! Aren’t you excited?” And he responded by saying,”Son… every new years day feels just like waking up for another breakfast once you get to be my age.” At the time, I didn’t fully understand what he meant by it, but now that I’ve derived the age-relativity equation, it all makes sense to me. Poor old man. His years must be moving at the speed of light.

So is it possible to somehow slow down time? If time is measured by the memorable experiences we have in life, then I suppose it is possible to some extent. We could do it by breaking away from our mundane daily activities as much as possible. If you spent an entire year traveling the world and visiting new places instead of working a 9 to 5 in the corporate world, then surely that year would feel a whole lot longer. Imagine you create enough memories in a year to match the entire 24 years before it. Then that single year would feel as long as the first year of your life. Wow! But it seems like that’s the only way to slow down time — to constantly be creating new and interesting memories. So if you want to take something away from this entry besides the fact that I’m a nerd, then wake up every morning clapping your hands together and Start Living Life!

“Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”

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  1. April 12, 2012 at 3:20 am

    I glazed over the math elements of your post (ahh numbers), but I really liked your analysis of age. I’ve been considering the speediness of time alot lately. I’m in awe of how everything goes by so quickly. Last year feels like yesterday already.
    One thing solution I’ve found for the slow-down is yoga. I started practicing it again this Spring and every time I let myself breath little slower that whir of time rushing by gets at least a little muffled. That sort of goes along with your idea of creating an immense amount of memories–maybe really reveling in your experiences keeps the time rush a little more anchored.

  2. April 12, 2012 at 3:22 am

    Maybe it’s that magic we lose for life as we get older that makes this time thing seem like is sinking fast. We get to jaded to grab and analyze it and it all gets lost so fast.

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