What’s in a birthday anyway?

Photo by Ali Kokab on Unsplash

How much does a birthday really matter?

I had my birthday this week. I was visiting the UK and in the end stayed for a bunch of work meetings for the day, including for a conference on concrete – which is a slightly different thing to do, but unique nonetheless.

I’ve had a bit of cake and a few nice cards from colleagues and family. I’ve also had people wishing me well. I’m rather behind responding to messages, but I’ll get around to it. Apologies!

I actually spent the day staying at my parents house. My mother bought a giant cake, then realised it would be too much of a faff to open it when I was about to travel. So instead I packed a Sainsbury’s chocolate cake and took it to Brussels the next day. Supplemented with my annual tradition of buying a Colin the Caterpillar cake (a British institution for my international friends), I am in no lack of sickly chocolate cake for the next three weeks.

It’s quite funny looking at the relaxed way I spent my birthday. These days I see things very differently to how I saw something like a birthday compared to before. I used to get quite wound up about the fact my birthday was during my summer, and that I couldn’t have some big party.

I would look enviously at others who could have a moment for themselves to celebrate, and wondered why it didn’t really happen when it was my turn. It got to the point that I’d count how many people wished me happy birthday on my Facebook wall vs other people. This was my way of quantifying how much I was appreciated compared to other people.

It’s a little crazy to look back at it. It used to be a day filled with dread as I had expectations which weren’t met, leaving me feel worse than other days. But birthdays, like New Years is just a day in the calendar. If we didn’t live our lives based upon a calendar which governs our days I wouldn’t even realise that the day was any different to another.

Wouldn’t it be a novel way to see things if we didn’t base our lives on the calendar? We wouldn’t know the difference between a Monday and a Saturday, nor craving the holiday months in July quite in the same way as we do. Perhaps life would be a bit freer.

This is the way I’ve started thinking. It’s actually pretty liberating. I enjoy what I want to, living life as I would want to anyway – enjoying each day as it comes, and making it as fulfilling as possible. Anything further I receive like the cake, cards and well wishes are a bonus. I don’t need people to say happy birthday to feel happy. But it’s a nice opportunity to reconnect with people all the same. From a place of no expectations, life is a lot more fun.

The moment we shift our relationship with the comparison of others, or ‘important’ dates which actually are man-made, the moment we release ourselves from needing anything from anyone. From there, we can just enjoy what we receive, no matter the amount.

I’m not saying to not do parties or anything exciting. Quite the contrary – it’s the idea that we can do things like parties, but not putting undue expectations on it, nor relying on it to demonstrate how many people love us. The more pressure on it, the less enjoyable it is.

So I’d love to hear your reflections on what I’ve said. I’ve found that we can get very caught up on how we expect celebrations of things like birthdays, which ultimately tends to make us more unhappy.

How do you celebrate your birthday?

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