According to many sources, Albert Einstein once said the following:
“When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute and it’s longer than any hour. That’s relativity.”
I’m far from an expert on relativity, despite the many books I have read (or tried to read) on the subject, but I’ve always been a little uncomfortable with this quote. It seems too simplistic. It says that our perception of time is completely subjective, and varies depending on our emotional state. That doesn’t come close to explaining relativity. But I’ve never been able to find any concrete evidence that he didn’t say it. I’ve never even found anyone else who questioned the quote’s origin, or its usefulness as an analogy. So maybe I’m still not getting it.
However, I completely agree with the quote’s main idea: that time seems to slow down or speed up, depending on what we’re doing. Looking a little more deeply, I think what affects our perception of time — or at least mine — is how much we’re paying attention to it.
Back to the stove. When I cook spaghetti and think, “it needs another minute,” I usually stand there and watch the clock. I’m always amazed at how long it takes for sixty seconds to go by. Yet when I drive on a boring stretch of highway, or when I’m watching a good movie or involved in an interesting conversation, the minutes and hours seem to evaporate. On those rare nights when I sleep straight through, eight hours can feel like eight minutes. So the Einstein quote is absolutely accurate, whether he said it or not.
If waiting for the stove’s clock to tick off a single minute can take so long, why do the weeks seem to fly by? I think it must be because I’m not paying enough attention. A week has more than ten thousand of those minutes. What if I could train myself to focus on more of them, and be aware of what each one contains? At home, the weeks are like speeding cars zipping past me while I stand on the edge of an eight-lane highway. On any given day, I can’t remember what I did yesterday, or if something happened last Tuesday or three months ago. But sometimes, especially on a trip to a new place, one day can be so filled with experiences that twenty-four hours can feel like a week. On vacation I often find myself thinking, at the end of the first day, “I can’t believe I was home this morning.” Those must be the days when I’m paying attention, when a day feels like a day.
What if I could learn how to do that more often? I’d have more experiences and more memories to mentally attach to each minute. Time would seem to slow down, and I’d have more of it.
I think I’ll go sit on a hot stove and start practicing.