With the dawning realization that Christmas is already around the corner, it occurred to me that a strange thing has happened during the pandemic: we have lost our natural perception of the passage of time.

The feeling hit me when I logged off from work and moved from my study to the living room, my thoughts still lingering in the virtual office as I sat down to write Christmas cards to friends and acquaintances I haven’t seen in person for a while.

Where did all the time go?

Psychologists have long known that our subjective experience of time can both expand and contract, depending on the level and amount of newness we experience.

Traveling to new places. Trying new restaurants. Meeting new people. These moments are like anchors in an ocean of time. They give us a destination to look forward to. And when the moment has passed, it turns into a memory that we can revisit whenever we feel adrift or lonely.

“What a beautiful summer evening with friends that was.” “What a splendid autumn view unfolded before our eyes when the mist withdrew from the valley.” “What a bittersweet moment when we were all able to say goodbye to someone we loved, taking comfort in each other’s embrace.”

Such moments have been fewer and further in between during the pandemic. With restrictions once again imposed in many countries, we find ourselves in boundless waters again, anchorless, not knowing when new sights will emerge on the horizon, our internal clocks out of sync with the physical world around us.

The seasons keep on turning, as they have always done. The leaves keep changing colors, as they will always do. But somehow we feel stuck in the same moment, which – paradoxically – seems to last both forever and a mere nanosecond.

Time is slipping away from us faster than we are consciously aware of. And perhaps, subconsciously, this is what is currently triggering a lot of people to take stock of their lives, their values, their work, their priorities, and their unfulfilled dreams.

What is my purpose in life and how I can live by it?
Am I spending my time on the things that matter most?
Or have my priorities become blurred by a haze of distraction?

Life is short. The clock is ticking. That seemingly endless ocean of time is, in fact, not endless. Which is why, once we will be able to drop our anchors in the world again, allowing us to regain our natural perception of time, we want to be sure, more than ever, that we are spending it well.

To receive reflections like these in your mailbox, subscribe here. Photo: late autumn in Kyoto, Japan, 2015