The Holiday Paradox

Holidays always end fast. But once we are back to school or work, we feel that we had a long holiday. Claudia Hammond (2012) coined this phenomenon as the “Holiday Paradox”. But, how can our holidays be short and long at the same time?

This contradictory time experience is related to how we judge time. There are two ways we judge time duration: 1) we estimate the time duration of the event we are experiencing (prospective time estimation) and 2) we estimate the time duration of the event after the event has passed (retrospective time estimation) (Block, & Zakay, 1997).  For example, during holidays, we are estimating the time prospectively as we are judging the time experiences that are passing. However, right after the holiday ended, we are estimating the holidays’ time duration retrospectively as we rely on our memory to judge how much time has passed.

The main culprit of the holiday paradox is the memory, which plays an important role in retrospective time estimation (Hammond, 2012). During the holiday, time is passing fast because we are experiencing a lot of interesting stuff and enjoyable activities. These activities distract us from paying attention to time so we are not aware of the time passing. At the same time, these new, meaningful and interesting activities allowed relatively more memories to be formed than the usual daily routine during school days or work days. As a consequence, more memories are formed, and we feel that much more time has passed, and thus, we feel that we have a longer holiday (Hammond, 2012).

The same thing happens when we are sick, but in a reverse manner (Hammond, 2012). We feel that time passes slowly when we are lying on bed and doing nothing. However, when we have recovered, we felt that the time duration when we were having that illness is short. Doing nothing on bed formed relatively fewer memories when compared to normal daily routine. Thus, lesser memories formed and, in turn makes us feel the time duration we were having illness passed faster after we recovered.

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Block, R. A., & Zakay, D. (1997). Prospective and retrospective duration judgements: A meta-analytic review. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 4(2), 184-197. doi: 10.3758/BF03209393

Hammond, C. (2013). Time wrapped: Unlocking the mysteries of time perception. New York: Harper Perennial

Author information:

Huan Jie is a Psychology graduate student from HELP University, Malaysia. He is interested in social psychology and cognitive psychology.

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