Life begins

IN a little over a few days, I will be celebrating my birthday. I do not particularly enjoy birthday celebrations. One of the reasons this is so is probably because I used to celebrate it together with my sister, whose birthday is just two days from mine. And since she is the eldest in the family and to save from a double celebration, I would celebrate my birthday with her, two days after. Moreover, the guests would always be all her friends. I can remember a few occasions I celebrated it with some of my friends, but given that I am extremely introverted (until now, I guess), I do not normally have a big celebration for my birthday. There was even a time I celebrated by going on a trip alone. And up to this day, my idea of a good birthday celebration is a sit-down dinner, a slice of cake and a cup of coffee, and a good conversation with a glass of wine after. Each person has a way of celebrating their birthdays. I just prefer mine that way. If there would be a celebration, I prefer it to be small enough to talk to everyone in the party.

But in all the years I did celebrate my birthday, I would always take the time to be thankful for another year that I have been given. I think one of the simplest ways we celebrate life is acknowledging we survived another year. And given the demands of work and the challenges of life, indeed it is a survival. But beyond the nitty-gritty of everyday life, we celebrate the accomplishments in our work, the new friends we have made and the optimism that everything will be all right as we face another year. Birthdays are commemorations of how far we have gone in life and to be thankful for every good thing which life has to offer. And we celebrate it in our own way, surrounded by the people we hold dear.

This is also a good reason why we celebrate birthdays—they are a social cue to celebrate with friends and family. Ever notice that the way we celebrate the birthdays of people we know and care for is different when we attend celebrations of people we hardly know? When we have birthday celebrations in the office with our colleagues, do you notice it is different when you celebrate with friends you have known for a long time? The celebration becomes more meaningful and significant because they know your struggles, and they have been with you in moments of self-doubt and misery. They were the ones who stood by you and supported you to become the person you are now. We celebrate with people who have seen us through thick and thin, and are willing to stay with us for as long as we live. These are the kinds of friends we have fun celebrating our birthdays with—we get to be who we are.

Birthdays are important times to focus and refocus.  While we have New Year resolutions to guide us in navigating the year, birthdays are somehow similar. It reminds us of the goals we have set for a lifetime and how far we have achieved them, or adjust your life course so you can achieve them. One of the important things I do on my birthday is to recount the past year and look at what I have done and stop regretting things I have not done, or the things I could have done differently. I would rather focus on what I can do better in the future. Taking the time to think about the past year will provide you insights into the things which can make you happier and enjoy your life more. While it is good to celebrate our triumphs, it is equally good to understand where we need to improve and take specific steps to address them, or think of ways our strengths can best play against our opportunities for growth.

In your next birthday, maybe instead of receiving gifts, how about giving a gift to your mother? After all, she was the one who bore the pain and suffering to get you into this world. I guess what I am trying to say is your mother should be celebrated as much as your birthday. Every year of your life, your mother was there to support and guide you, and no one in this world will love you as much as your mother does. Birthdays should also be about them. So instead of expecting a gift from your mom, why don’t you give a gift to your mom in appreciation of how much they have given up so you can have more.

I turn 40 this year and as the famous saying goes, life begins at 40. I have always found this to be curious phrase. A little research showed me this phrase is actually the title of a book published by American psychologist Walter Pitkin in 1932. This was during the era of new advancements in technology which allowed for longer life spans beyond 40 years, when a few years before, it was only 25 years. Hence, the famous phrase. As I celebrate my 40th year, I can see so many things changing in my life—professional and personal, and I am appreciating more and more the people and events which have brought me to where I am now. And while there may be changes here and there, I can always rely on the people I have chosen to stay in my life to get me through. 

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