This week was my birthday (it was lovely, thank you!) and it got me thinking.
I decided to do some research on the psychology of birthdays. I read about feeling grateful on birthdays, how birthdays can motivate us, how we can get “the birthday blues“, and making birthday wishes. I read commentary on how our society has a “birthday script” that is tough to get away from and says we’re supposed to enjoy and feel good on our birthdays, but also pokes fun at old age, while telling youth that birthdays are exciting and all about them. I even read an interesting article on how young children seem to think birthday parties cause aging (so in theory if you didn’t have a party you wouldn’t get older… I’m sure some would welcome this idea!).
The biggest thing I’ve taken from these articles is that I’m not the only one who gets thoughtful about birthdays!
More seriously though, the common thread I saw in these articles is that birthdays are milestones in life for us, and at milestones we stop, become thoughtful, and measure our progress. If we’re happy with what we see in our lives we might feel grateful or proud. If we’ve been meaning to get started on something we can more easily be motivated – we look forward as well as backward and might see the milestone as an opportunity for a fresh start. If we don’t think our life is going the way we wanted it to, we can get the birthday blues. We also might blow out candles and wish for things to change, but not go any further than wishing.
I bet you’ve experienced this milestone re-assessment of life before. Birthdays aren’t our only milestones – lots of people reassess life at the turn of the new year, an anniversary of a marriage, an anniversary of a death, the birthday of someone important to us, or the anniversary of some other important event in our lives. We look back at where we’ve been, decide what we think about it, and look ahead to see where we’re going (and decide what we think about that!). When was the last time you re-assessed life? Did you feel good about where you’d been and where you were going? Did you wish for things to change? Did you act to make those changes happen?
Regardless of how you’re feeling about your life, I think it is possible for us to put the potential effects of milestones (gratitude, disappointment, wishing, and motivation) together for our own benefit. When you hit a milestone and you notice feeling grateful, disappointed, wistful, motivated, all four, or some other feeling, try to recall this blog. This is your opportunity to take that feeling and expand it. What is it telling you? Stay on this path? This isn’t what I want? Spend a few minutes thinking about it – is what you’re doing getting you where you want to go? Is there anything you want to change? What’s stopping you from changing? Think about how you can get around that roadblock and make the change you want. This is your opportunity not to let other things get in the way. You’re in control. This is the magic of milestones!
Although my birthday made me thoughtful, it actually isn’t my preferred time for reviewing my life. For multiple years I have had a tradition of doing this on June 3rd, because that was the date I moved to Los Angeles for my own personal fresh start. Every June 3rd since then I have stopped and written to try to capture what I did in the past year. Every year I look through my calendar, journals, etc. and really think about the year that passed. Last year I also wrote about goals I hoped to complete in the upcoming year. I attempted to capture the good and bad events and the goals through numbers: 1 bike accident, 6 migraines, 4 trips to visit friends, 8 girls’ nights, 1 new (to me) car… Although I have (obviously) since moved away from Los Angeles, the date still holds a special place in my heart as my personal opportunity to assess life, and I kind of like that it isn’t a date everyone knows about (so don’t tell, ok?!). Feel free to borrow my method of stopping to think about life. I find it makes me walk away feeling grateful and also knowing what I do and do not want more of in my life. I hope you’ll find that your milestones help you in the same way.
If you’re struggling with a milestone, trying to review your life, or want to make a change and could use some help figuring out how, give us a call at Life Skills Resource Group in Orlando at 407-355-7378. Our experienced counselors, psychologists, and life coaches are here to guide you and give you the support you need.