Birthdays are tricky. Some people, such as my friend Jon, are allergic to them because he does not want the attention or the presents, which are superficial to him.
I can understand that to have a person give out of obligation is different than celebration. So, I jest with him and tell him to get better friends.
I take birthdays seriously. I celebrate my birthday for a season and spell it “birfday.” I used to do a week, but then I realized I was just too much for a week. A month was a good point because I could then see all my friends and accept any belated presents. Also, my “birfday” falls every year during finals week so it is not the best week to celebrate. This is followed by spring break, well you get the idea.
In my argument with Jon, I decided to go nerdy and actually do some research on the benefits of celebration. Celebration, in fact, is the way we as humans demonstrate gratitude. Stephen Post wrote this great book, “Why Good Things Happen to Good People,” which gives some empirical information with qualitative data about love and celebration. This is how I killed my argument with Jon.
Post said there are some aspects of celebration that are fundamental. He said that celebration creates a circle of love. This means that demonstrating gratitude sets up a system of reciprocity and acts of gratitude encourage other actions that create a pattern, hence a circle. Celebration, Post said, moves us from fear to faith. Studies show that the most grateful people are those who have overcome adversity and have been through challenging experiences.
Post also said that celebration shifts people’s thinking from tired to inspired. Cultivating gratitude is a way to encourage positive feelings instantaneously. He then went on to share how celebration is healing. In a study on organ donation, Post noted that the study showed the more gratitude a recipient felt for the donation, the faster the recovery process.
Another study that Post noted was in 1995 that demonstrated that states of appreciation have a correlation with a physiological state that is called resonance. This means that the heart, breathing, blood pressure, as well as the rhythm of the brain are synchronized. Resonance also happens in deep relaxation and sleep. In this state, the body more efficiently uses energy. This state calms our neurological and endocrine systems. The participants in the study incorporated five minutes of gratitude a day to shift the nervous system to a calm state; anyone could do this.
There is a ton of information in the book, it is definitely worth picking up. Some of the most interesting information is that celebrating people can be done in so many ways that it is easy to incorporate it into your everyday life and get all the added health benefits. In a society that sends e-mails instead of letters and e-cards instead of handwritten notes of appreciation or joy, perhaps we can all learn to celebrate people in meaningful ways.
Some suggestions from Post are celebrating within ritual, with quality time, and doing it now. Rituals such as birthdays, holidays and anniversaries are ancient and living parts of humanity. By quality time he means take those spring break road trips, go to concerts with old friends and dance randomly in Target when your favorite song comes on.
The right “now” vibe means that while waiting to celebrate one might miss the opportunity to share something great with the people around them, like “birfdays.” As my month continues and I get the opportunity to be with the people I care about, I will also use my “birfday” as a means to raise money for the UNICEF Tap Project Water Walk by having people give money at my party for this esteemed event. Celebrating is multi-layered and can be thoughtful, like helping others while dancing to ‘80s music. Patty wins over Jon, 124-80.