Published: 2010-02-27

Nancy Luksch

Our sense of time influences our choices, decisions and emotional needs. We tend to make different choices depending on our value of time, our focus on the present or the future and by regulating and justifying these choices we try to maintain a sense of overall well-being.

Zimbardo (2008) established that people live with different time perspectives and that these time perspectives can change somewhat over time. But how much does our sense of time influence our development and our sense of well-being?

The development of cognitive ability, language comprehension and use of motor skills can be predicted by calendar time in children and Teenagers. However, after adolescence calendar time is rarely a good predictor of motivations, thought processes and emotions.

Carstensen’s studies (2006) concentrate on whether your chronological age (time passed since birth) or your sense of time remaining is more important for your sense of well- being. Carstensen (2006) found that if we have the feeling that our future is still unlimited tend to make choices which are focused on future–oriented activities (e.g. new education, learning about the world, meeting new people, etc.) However, if we have the feeling that our future is limited, either through illness or through ageing our priorities shift towards a present emotional satisfaction or present positive emotional state. Therefore, it could be argued that older people speak their mind more often, decide to go on a quick vacation or explore other activities, which make them feel good immediately. Thus, if you have lots of time left you will focus on ‘the more the better’ and if you feel that life is short your focus and choices will become short-term. It becomes a question of quality rather than quantity.

Carstensen (2006) states that earlier findings suggested that older people participate less in social activities in their lives and their social network decreases somewhat over time, they disengage from life and are not as happy as younger people. Paradoxically, her findings show that although the elderly make fewer choices, these fewer choices allow concentrating on emotions on a deeper level and older people are nevertheless as happy as younger people. Similar findings come from Antonucci (1989), who found that we go through different ‘time’ stages in life. In childhood and adolescence we expand our social network, explore different relationships and try to find what suits us best and whom we like to establish deeper relationships with. In the age of 30+ we establish a special group, which we can identify with. Usually, people we meet at this stage in time become and remain close friends and acquaintances. The interactions with those friends and acquaintances might be sometimes less close and sometimes deeper and more meaningful, however, the quality of emotions they provide (i.e. trust, love, happiness) often remain stable over time.

It seems that younger people often experience the future to be unlimited and therefore are more active in their social networking, doing new things, meeting new people and making new friends and therefore are often seen as happier than older generations. However, the above studies show that older people have a different view about their time perspective and using the time ‘left’ on a deeper level of meaning and are just as happy as younger people.

Antonucci, T. C. (1989) ‘Understanding adult Social Relationships’ In Kreppner K., Lerner R.L. eds. Family Systems and Life span Development pp303-317 Hilldale, N.J. Erlbaum

Carstensen L.L. (2006) The Influence of a sense of time in Human development Science 312, 1913-1915

Zimbardo P. (2008) The Time Paradox – The new Psychology of Time New York: Free Press