time flies when you’re having fun

That means that sometimes time seems to pass surprisingly quickly.

The idea was first expressed by Virgil (70-19 BCE), who wrote in the Aeneid: “Fugit inreparabile tempus” which translates as ‘Time is flying never to return.’ (Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings by Gregory Y. Titelman) It also appeared in England in 1386 in Chaucer’s Prologue to the Clerk’s Tale. The earliest American appearance in print is 1710 in Mayflower Descendant.

The phrase is also used in a sarcastic way when you aren’t really enjoying something, for example, “It took me ten hours to write that essay today — time flies when you’re having fun!”

Although it is a fact that seconds and minutes always tick by at the normal pace, most of us have experienced the feeling that time is moving faster or slower than usual. It hardly seems fair that time appears to speed up when you’re doing something positive, something you love, but slows down when you’re doing something negative, like sitting through a boring meeting.

Scientists have come up with a theory explaining all that. Their theory says that “patterns of activity in the brain change depending on how we focus on a task.”  Scans show that if we are using our brains to concentrate on many aspects of something then “it has to spread its resources thinly, and pays less heed to time passing.” On the other hand if you are bored then you might concentrate on the “passing of time” instead. 

New research has shown evidence that not all positive states are considered equal. Feelings of contentment or serenity are definitely positive emotions, but are less likely to make us feel that time is flying than the excitement of going after a desired goal.

Such high motivation makes time seem like it is passing fast because it narrows and focuses our memory and attention processes, which shuts out thoughts and feelings that are not related.

The foodies among us can observe this phenomenon every day. My favorite Sunday morning breakfast of hash browns, bacon and eggs-over-easy disappears all too fast, leaving my tongue still wanting more. But my Sunday afternoon healthy snack of a green smoothie will feel like it takes twice as long to consume. And I won’t want seconds!


  One thought on “time flies when you’re having fun

  1. Alice Becker
    August 14, 2016 at 1:52 pm

    Really amazing, yes?

    Where were you during Y2K,eh??

    Seems like only yesterday!



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