Time flies when you’re having fun – but the reverse is also true:

University students would come into their lab. Their cell phones would be turned off and their watches set aside, supposedly so they could better concentrate on a little task. They were told to read a text and underline all words with double letter combinations, like apple or mammal.

Everyone was going to be doing this task for exactly 10 minutes, Sackett says.

“But that’s not what we told them,” he says. “We told half of our participants that they were going to be spending less time than that” — only five minutes. The other volunteers were told that they’d be doing the task for 20 minutes.

These little deceptions created a feeling of surprise in the study participants later on, when they were told that their time was up. “For participants who thought that they’d only been doing this task for five minutes, what they’re thinking is: ‘My gosh, those five minutes seemed to last forever; it felt more like, say, maybe 10.’ ” Which, of course, was exactly how long it lasted — although they couldn’t know that.

Meanwhile, the people who thought they’d been working for 20 minutes had the opposite sensation. “They’re thinking, ‘Jeez, those 20 minutes really breezed by,’ ” says Sackett.

Then Sackett and his colleagues asked people how much they enjoyed this mundane task. “People who thought that they spent 20 minutes on this 10-minute task, for whom those 20 minutes, in their mind, flew by, rated the task as much more enjoyable, as more fun, and just overall more positively than did participants who felt as though time dragged by,” he says, even though both groups of people had actually had the exact same experience.

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