Subjective Perception of Time

124. Life is short, but its ills make it seem long.

True words from Publius this morning. I can attest to perceiving this — when participating in an activity that is fun and engaging, time seems to fly by. But during an activity that’s not enjoyable or monotonous, the minutes tick away like hours.

It’s been proven that time perception is subjective. The perceived duration of time is influenced greatly by the perceiver and what is happening to them. Such phenomena as chronostasis and the oddball effect are good examples of this.

It is also true that our perception of time is influenced by our current mental state. It has been observed that depressed individuals seem to be able to perceive the passage of time more accurately, a phenomena termed depressive realism. If this is the case, there must be some evolutionary advantage. Perhaps the inverse is easier to conceptualize — if doing productive work, lost in a state of flow, it stands to reason that the longer we can stay in the groove and produce, the more likely we are to survive.

Physical Labor

Personally, I’ve always found that doing physical labor really slows down the big and little hands for me. It can be engaging and rewarding, yes, but I remember typically wanting to tear my face off after a couple hours. Especially the more monotonous and non-mentally taxing work.

For some, physical labor certainly feels good, and right. A satisfied exhale — “aaahh, back in the swing of things.” To me, it feels like time is ticking away at the slowest pace imaginable, while my brain rots away and I waste my life — “I’d rather be doing some heavy mental lifting, and later I could go hit the gym and pump some iron.”

In any case, we’ll have more to say in the future on physical labor and its benefits. There are definitely big positives, particularly as our physical health is concerned. Other factors like a sense of ownership and pride in your surroundings, and a tightly knit community also factor in.


Sometimes life hits us, right in the mouth. It’s guaranteed to. Could be a death, an illness, the end of a relationship, the loss of a job, the failure of a project. It’s gonna hit you, and it’s gonna hit you hard. What you do in response is all that matters.

And in these difficult times, our perception of time can really drag. It can seem like the passage of time has slowed to a standstill. The ills of life have pulled a trick on us — an illusion that our breathtakingly short life is actually long.


So what of it all?

Let’s take it as a simple reminder that life is short, though at times we may not perceive it to be so. Live a just and right life, and know that the hardships we face can distort our perception of time. And look for those activities which you become so engaged with and enraptured in that the moments speed by.

Until next time,


Life is short, and so is this excellent book of sayings. And reading it will be so enjoyable that the minutes will fly by like seconds.


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