• Gail MLT

A closer horizon

There are many theories on aging. The one that rings truest for me - the one I find most helpful - is Laura L. Carstensen's theory about the perception of time.

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“People are always aware of time - not only of clock and calendar time, but of lifetime.” ~Carstensen, Isaacowitz & Charles, Taking Time Seriously, A Theory of Socioemotional Selectivity,1999

As I move through my 60s, I see my age not so much in terms of physical changes or how long I have lived but in light of how much time I may reasonably have left, not just to live but to do the things I still want to do. Elsewhere in this blog, I have written about how, in early adulthood, our futures stretch before us like an unending plain, without a visible horizon. Even though we know that - as living creatures - time eventually runs out for all of us, in the beginning of adulthood we take it for granted there is time enough to strive and fail and explore and strive again.


The great gift of youth is this sense of limitless time.


The great gift of getting older is the sense that our time is limited.


When we look ahead now, the horizon is visible. At first this perception of time running out is scary and uncomfortable: it doesn't feel much like a gift at all. Eventually, however, this perception becomes a gift, for unlike anything else, it gives value to each precious day.



Future time horizons and Socioemotional Selectivity Theory (SST)


Building on the recognition that human beings monitor time, Stanford psychologist Dr. Laura L. Carstensen developed a lifespan theory, called Socioemotional Selectivity theory (SST). The premise of SST is that, as the time horizon shrinks for older adults, emotionally meaningful social goals take priority over future knowledge-related pursuits. This perception of limited time has implications for social networks, emotional regulation, and personal motivation among older adults. Of all the theories on aging and lifespan, SST is the one that makes the most sense of what I personally observe, both in myself and in adults my age and older. I'll explore the expression of this theory in future blogs, for I suspect it will resonate for many readers.

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