We all ‘mark the occasion’ when things don’t work out. I bet you let your housemates know how frustrated you were when you couldn’t find your wallet or your car keys. I’m sure your best friend felt your despondency when your boss failed to recognize your most recent contribution. When you gained 10kgs during the lockdown, did you voice your complaint? If you’re like most of us, your friends and family know all about everything that’s not going well for you. Between your words, your tone, and your body language – you make sure to let them know.
But how about when you find your wallet or your car keys, when your boss praises you lavishly, when you succeed in losing 10kg? Is the joy at your success equally palpable?
I’m not only talking about what lawyers refer to as “hatches, matches and dispatches,” which is to say births, marriages, and deaths.
Big reasons o celebrate
Perhaps you recovered from a serious ailment, broke a habit or addiction, or achieved a personal fitness goal such as training for a marathon, climbing a mountain, or losing a desired amount of weight. Or, maybe you celebrated a big anniversary of some kind. It could be you started or completed an important project, or earned a pay rise.
How did you celebrate these momentous events?
Did you invite your friends and family for a weekend away or a delicious meal?
Did you welcome folks to your home for a party?
Did you take time out for a spa retreat or a massage?
And how about those ’smaller’ achievements, such as not being upset by critical feedback or learning an important life lesson by making a mistake, acing a delicious new recipe, resolving something with a family member, or speaking up for the first time at an office meeting.
How did you mark these occasions?
Did you whoop and hi-five?
Did you light a candle?
Did you launch some fireworks, or open a bottle of champagne?
Did you take a moment to change the scene, step outside to a beautiful spot, just to acknowledge your small triumph?
Celebrating who you are
And how about the last time you celebrated the human qualities you appreciate in yourself, your partner, or best friend? What are you proud of? What have you overcome? What small achievement makes you feel good?
An old friend of mine arrived at my house the other day with a big bunch of deep red peonies, which are possibly my favorite flowers. “What’s this in honor of?” I asked, somewhat tentatively.
“I want to celebrate your perseverance,” my friend replied.
We both knew only too well the particular work relationship in which I’d demonstrated a superhuman tenacity – and I’ll always remember the beautiful flowers which he brought to honor this quality in me.
Make lasting Memories
Just as with weddings and funerals, when you take time out to mark joyous milestones in a celebratory way, wherher it’s flowers, cake, perfume, music, or photos and video, celebration creates visceral memories that your mind can re-visit when you’re in need of a boost of joy.
It’s true that we bond with one another over our complaints. But we can also forge deeper and more profound connections through generously sharing joyous occasions. When we only share what isn’t working, and fail to celebrate our joy and success with those we care about, it creates an unbalanced environment in which others often feel uncomfortable sharing their victories with you.
Celebrating through rituals is an ancient human practice, sill evidenced by the rites of tribal communities where simple acts such as dancing around a fire, breaking bread or sharing wine symbolize appreciation of life. If champagne and fireworks aren’t your things, why not celebrate with rituals of your own?
Create Fun – It boosts wellbeing
It’s not every day we give ourselves time and permission to sing and dance and play and laugh, so you’d have thought we’d jump at any excuse to create some fun for ourselves and others. Perhaps your childhood was not filled with birthday cakes and fun fairs, but there’s still a child in you (and in those around you) who would love it.
When we stop to savor the good things in our life, it helps promote positive emotions, and the ‘happy drugs’ of dopamine and serotonin are produced.
You won’t jinx anything
I have friends and clients who’ve told me they’re scared of celebrating anything for fear of ‘jinxing” whatever it is that’s going right for them, as though, if they’re noticeably grateful for success or joy in their life, the universe will punish them.
My understanding of divine retribution is imperfect, so let me introduce you to monk and TED talk speaker, Father David Steindl-Rast. It is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.” So how exactly do we live gratefully? “By becoming aware that every moment is a ‘given moment, It’s a gift. You haven’t earned it or brought it about. And you have no way of assuring there will be another moment given to you. If you didn’t have this present moment you wouldn’t have any opportunity to do or experience anything.”
You don’t have to be a Monk (or religious) to take time to savor the experiences and people who you love or to spend five minutes being thankful and celebrating. The writer, Maya Angelou talks about the shift that occurred at a very low point in her life when she sat to write down all the things which she celebrated as being true and good – from her eyesight, her hearing, her ability to write, her mother, her son, her life itself.
“After that exercise [of practicing gratitude] the ship of my life might or might not be sailing on calm seas. The challenging days of my existence might or might not be bright and promising. From that encounter on, whether my days are stormy or sunny and if my nights are glorious or lonely, I maintain an attitude of gratitude. If pessimism insists on occupying my thoughts, I remember there is always tomorrow. Today I am blessed.”
― Maya Angelou, Mom & Me & Mom