Certain songs brilliantly conjure up a feeling of nostalgia for vast groups of people. Bryan Adams’ Summer of ’69 is one — the Baby Boomers were around 18-23 years old then, and we know that what happens during those years tends to imprint on the mind profoundly, because that is when people are figuring out their identities. He sings “That summer seemed to last forever. And if I had the choice. Yeah, I’d always wanna be there. Those were the best days of my life.”
This idea of a summer seeming to last forever is one I’ve been pondering lately (if less the nostalgia. I am happier with my life now than I was at age 18. Writing for a living definitely beats working at Osco Drug Store in a Mishawaka, Indiana mall!). People often lament a sense that time is speeding up. Not all time hurtles by. The minutes spent stuck in a traffic jam seem to plod along. The question is whether it is possible to make the good moments pass as slowly as the tedious (or awful) ones.
The basic answer is “no.” It is the human condition that, precious as those good moments are, they will always disappear into the past before we wish them to. But as I have been researching this for an essay I am writing this week, I’ve found a few strategies that at least help with making time seem more expansive.
The first strategy is novelty. Remember how the first days of summer camp seemed to pass more slowly than the last? In new situations, the brain is laying down more tracks as it picks up new details. This is partly why time seems to go slower for a child than an adult. To a child, much is still novel. Adults build comfortable routines where little changes. So the brain goes into low-power mode. But anything new can change this: new commutes, new projects, meeting new people, doing new things with old friends.
The second strategy is depth. It is a cliche that a car crash passes in slow motion, but it’s also true. Anything risky or scary (or adventurous, to use a positive word) expands time. The example I often use for people is that the 14 minutes I spent on stage in front of the full Cadillac Theater for my Chicago Ideas Week talk is the same length of time it takes me to make and eat breakfast most mornings. Guess which seems bigger. The former was one of my defining experiences of 2015. Breakfast, not so much.
There is also something to be said for refusing to adopt time-passing strategies. Channel surfing will make the time go by faster than sitting out on the porch on a weekend afternoon looking at the clouds. But do you really want that time to go by faster? I have been trying to avoid looking at my phone in situations like sitting on the sidelines during baseball practice. A lovely summer day (when I only have one kid with me!) does not need to be sped up. Nothing needs to be read. Headline surfing is about filling time that may be best not filled.
Finally, the remembering self is more pliable than we often think. I have looked through the photo album I made of my honeymoon many times. The pictures have become my memories. If I put some of the photos out of order? Well, that would be the way the story would go now. But the broader point is that telling the story can cement it, and hence expand it, in one’s mind. I remember a lot about the past 14 months, partly because I recorded how I spent my time. It did not really race by. Or maybe that’s because I had a lot of slow moments at 3 A.M. when I was up with a kid who doesn’t sleep well. In either case, though, it does slow time down.
Do you have any strategies for slowing time (well, the good time) down?
10 thoughts on “That summer seemed to last forever”
At the risk of sounding super-cheesy (and maybe not entirely helpful) I try to take a deep breath, engage my senses (what good sights, smells, and sounds am I experiencing? etc.), and appreciate whatever it is I get to do at the moment. I sometimes close my eyes and tip my head back for a moment. It pulls me back into the moment and re-centers me. When I look back on vacations where I started doing this, they feel much longer and more relaxing than ones that were the same length of time but where I dreaded the end or tried to cram a lot of activities in (so leaving space is another good way to make time seem more expansive).
This also works for tough situations, too, like the time I got a flat tire and was stuck for quite a while. In a bizarre twist I didn’t have a book on me (I nearly always do) and my phone didn’t have a lot of battery left. I took some deep breaths and appreciated the way the sun filtered through the leaves above me, the fact that it was a warm beautiful day and not the dead of winter, and it was more pleasant than not.
@Caitlin- mindfulness may be cheesy, but it’s also smart! And I agree on leaving space that is not then taken up by screen time. If it takes writing “20 minutes of hammock time” on the to-do list, so be it.
Doing 30 hour call every fourth night for x years slows things down a lot!
@Omdg – yup, the unpleasant or tedious can stretch time out a lot. The question is whether it’s possible to get some of that, um, spaciousness with the good stuff too.
Because the bulk of my time off during the year is the summer, it seems to fly by. I agree though days we spend frittering away watching tv seems to fly by, but the days spent being out and enjoying ourselves seems to last longer. Strategies I have employed to increase this “slow time” is similar to your summer fun list. Only I do it all year. We have a fall list, winter, and spring. I’m a list maker and while it may seem counterproductive to schedule my fun, it ensures those activities get done instead of … Well frittering away time watching tv.
@Jennie Evans – I totally agree on scheduling fun. Not only do you get to look forward to it, which stretches out the happiness, you are more likely to plan memory making events, and vivid memories stand out in the mind and thus stretch the time too.
I appreciate anything that will keep summer from feeling like it just whizzed by (how can it be June 15th already!?!) One of your ideas that I’ve really latched on to is the idea of anchor events – for a weekend, a vacation, a season. My family is fortunate to have both sets of grandparents owning cottages within 2-3 hours of our home. While it makes summers really pleasant, those default weeks or weekends at the cottage tend to make every summer blur into one familiar lump. Adding at least SOMEthing novel en route to the cottage does help make the mini vacations stand out more in our memory.
I’ve also just started trying to do more after- work/daycare outings to fill summer evenings, and just bring a picnic supper along. The main goal was actually to make the evenings go faster (and keep my kids from destroying the house) while my husband is traveling and I’m solo parenting. But the bonus is trying some new playgrounds, making some new memories… maybe the added bonus is our summer weeknights will slow down summer as a whole so it’s not just one eternal Monday night running around our own backyard.
Just wanted to share some wisdom my grandmother left me with: “The days are long but the years are short.”
I’ve found it to be truer and truer as the years fly by and helps me remember not to be too goal oriented that I keep wishing those days away.
One of the most effective strategies I know for time expansion (and this topic is the subject of a book I’m writing right now) is to design fear and suffering into your vacations. Here’s the reason – we are wired, as human beings, to remember stories. All stories have a plot, and all plots have a crisis. If you don’t have a crisis you don’t have a plot, if you don’t have a plot ,you don’t have a story and hence you won’t remember it!
Just a little trivia for you……summer of 69 was apparently not written about the year 1969…Bryan Adam would have been about 9 years old then…..apparently it is about making love in the summertime and 69 is the reference to that (hope you don’t mind me posting this Laura pls delete if inappropriate)