I have never been one to make a big deal out of my birthday. Like a lot of people, I'm somewhat uncomfortable being the center of attention, and I don't love to be reminded that I'm getting older. That goes for this year especially, because I'm going to be forty. By the standards of Western society at this moment of history, forty is officially middle-aged. Goodbye, youth. (For real this time, not like thirty, which felt like the second act of young adulthood.)
Yet, for most of human history, forty was not middle-aged but straight up old. In some parts of the world, this is still true. How lucky am I that at forty--assuming (optimistically) no great personal or societal catastrophe--I can reasonably expect to live another four or five decades, perhaps even longer if medical science continues to advance.
Moreover, how arbitrary is this whole accounting of one's birthdays by our Earthly frame of reference. If I lived on Mars, I would be not on the cusp of forty but only recently turned twenty-one!
Objectively, forty is meaningless. Why fuss about it?
Then again, we live in the culture we live in, where it does mean something. Or it can mean something, if we allow it, and this is the life lesson that facing forty has bestowed upon me. Our whole lives mean nothing but what we make of them.
The research is now well established that lasting happiness is not to be found in material possessions but in experiences. It's not what we have, but what we do that leads to fulfillment.
Not only that, but the best way to create a memorable experience is to do something out of the ordinary. Understanding this has led me to rethink my relationship to birthdays.
For most of us, it is not practical to have an adventure every day. There are bills to pay, dishes to wash, laundry to fold, and lawns to mow. We can enjoy these chores if we do them with our full attention, but they aren't likely to stay with us.
Birthdays are a golden opportunity to do something different. The wind of cultural norms is at your back: people expect you to have fun on your birthday, and the people who love you expect to participate. What better opportunity to put routines aside and create some lasting memories?
Whether your birthday or someone else's, don't think of it as day of obligation for friends and family to bestow material gifts upon the honoree. Think of it as an opportunity to share an extra-ordinary, life enriching experience with people you care about. You don't have to spend a lot of money. Just put on your thinking cap, and for one day, find some way to make the world a more joyous and interesting place.
What birthdays have been memorable for you? What would you love to do for your next birthday? I'm looking for ideas. Please share your thoughts below.