Yesterday was apparently Pumpkin Spice day at Starbucks. I know this because no less than four people have told me, including an announcement on the morning news. Despite our insistence on moving ever-closer to “all things fall,” the weather forecast for the remainder of the week is all 90’s, all the time (kinda like my Pandora account…). So, we wait.
That’s the thing about time, no matter how much we want it to pass or to stand still, it keeps on ticking. Time, as we know, doesn’t change. The length of a second, a minute, an day, a month, and a year are always the same. What changes is our relationship to time that alters our perspective. When we want time to move more slowly to preserve something wonderful, time perseveres and passes anyway. When we want to be squarely on the other side of something less wonderful, time perseveres at the allotted pace despite our most desperate desires.
Time, it turns out, doesn't care about our feelings.
Because of our ever-changing relationship to time, scientists have labeled time-perception as an officially fluid thing. The way we feel about whatever it is we are experiencing will affect the way we perceive time in that moment. For many years, scientists described a theoretical model of time perception as sort of a
biological stopwatch that sped up and slowed down in line with our focus and attention. The more attention we pay to time itself, the slower it seems to pass. The more attention we pay to what we are doing, the more quickly time seems to pass. Happiness draws our attention to the source of the emotion. Happiness pulls our attention away from time, so we are less aware of its passage. Sadness and fear, on the other hand, are emotions from which we turn away, focusing our attention more on the passage of time as we painfully await the end of the experience that is the root of these more negative emotions. To make it even more complex, witnessing an event such as watching a video or a live performance of some spectacular (dangerous) feat will alter our perception of time. If we watch someone on YouTube careening down a hill on a mountain bike, our adrenaline will change our perception of time and we may be surprised by how little time has passed. When we are in nature, time often feels as though it has all but stopped, because our relationship to time is almost suspended and irrelevant.
Suffice it to say that time is relative to how we are feeling and what we are doing. This past eighteen months of pandemic time have definitely had their impact on us, and the longer we need to wait for the end, the more slowly it feels as though time is passing. It’s taking FOREVER to be on the other side and realizing that new normal they promised. Two things that will help us weather this storm are our ability to bounce back from adversity and our ability to push through when things get difficult: our resilience and perseverance. So as we wait for fall, with joy or with dread, time will pass as it will, but we will keep moving forward, perhaps with a pumpkin spice in hand, knowing fall will come when it always does—no matter how we feel about it.