A few months back my wife and I attended a social gathering of some friends and folks with common interests. One of the attendees was a lady who was celebrating her 45th birthday and the hosts were quite encouraging about everyone wishing the woman a happy birthday. They wanted us to help bring joy and happiness to her day. When I wished the woman a happy birthday she grumped at me. “I wish we could just let it go. I hate having birthdays. I’m 45, single and hate my job.” Well, first and foremost, you can bet I didn’t say another word to her about her birthday, but second… is having birthdays a bad thing? Is being single? Her job is a discussion for a different day.
I have a rather unique outlook because I’m a Leap Year baby – so I only really have a birthday once every four years. I usually celebrate on the 28th of February and through an odd twist of fate (adoption) I didn’t even know I was actually a Leap Year child for sure until I was forty years old. Now that I’m in my mid-fifties I take great delight in celebrating my approaching 14th birthday, but I definitely don’t deny my age or feel any angst about aging. There are several reasons for this outlook.
I believe my biggest challenge with disliking birthdays is… the option sucks. The only way to stop having birthdays is to die. No thanks. For the few people I’ve met who say they see no point in continuing to “grow old” I usually have to engage them in conversation to show them the value of life – even as we mature. “Growing old” is a state of mind; an outlook; an approach to challenges we sometimes face due to aging. I know plenty of people who are 60+ years OLD and yet their outlook seems to get younger every year; maybe it’s because they keep thinking about how much they can get away with.
My next challenge with disliking birthdays is that the outlook seems to deny the pure joy of celebrating a milestone in life. Look, life is full of enough challenges. We should embrace every opportunity we can get to celebrate something good. Having another birthday is a good thing. Rather than focusing on the number, focus on the event. Celebrate having circled the sun another time, successfully, alive, and (hopefully) healthy.
So, here was this woman who was having her 45th birthday and she was grumpy. She was surrounded by people; some were friends of hers while others (like myself) were friends of friends and everyone was happy for her… except her. As the gathering progressed it became apparent that her angst was centered around a recent breakup that ended the first relationship she’d had since she’d gotten divorced. So was she really upset about having a birthday? Or was she upset about another “failed relationship”?
I can relate. I got divorced at the grand old age of 26. At 45 I’d been happily married for about 15 years but it was my second go round. This woman was feeling the pressure of being middle-aged (her words), single, and doing nothing but getting older. Well, hmm… why is that? She had as much free time as everyone else and the only thing holding her back from having a good time was her outlook.
Which brings me to my final point: Birthdays should never be taken for granted and certainly should never cause angst, frustration or negative feelings in any way. Your birthday is proof you survived another year of everything life could throw at you. It’s proof you were able to overcome challenges, learn new things, get up, dress up, show up and perform as required every day for another year. The birthday you have this year is proof you are successful enough at simply living life that you get a chance to do it for another year. Rather than viewing the birthday as the end of another year (which is how we count them when you think about it), view it as the beginning of another 365 opportunities to grow, improve, learn, expand your life’s experiences and celebrate being alive.