You say it’s your birthday…?

When you were a child, do you remember the sense of exhilaration you used to feel the morning of your birthday? I was always extremely confused when my older relatives would express a lack of enthusiasm when their birthdays came around: “How could you not be thrilled??? It’s your birthday, Grandma!!!”

As people get older, their birthdays become less exciting. I think there are two main reasons for this: 1. There is a sense of wondrous pleasure that is much easier to induce in children than in adults (or as co-blogger John S. calls it “pure joy”). A birthday—a celebration of you—sparks this wondrous pleasure. This is not as easy to spark when we get older. 2. At a certain point, people simply do not enjoy getting older, especially women. Sure, at 9, it’s pretty cool to turn 10 (although, I didn’t quite get the fuss over double-digits at the time). However, most people do not have positive feelings toward age increases after 21, but the exact age at which this occurs depends on the individual and her circumstances. Regardless, youth is something that is cherished and each yearly increase in age reminds us that our youth is dissipating, or has dissipated entirely.

Considering these two causes of diminishing amounts of birthday pleasure, is there any way to systematically make birthdays more enjoyable after childhood?

Re-instilling childlike wondrous pleasure in adults appears to be difficult very much because such pleasure is dependent on a sense of naiveté and egocentrism psychologically inherent to childhood. At the same time, separating the strict connection between age and birthday is a bit more feasible.  Sure, maybe in a baby’s first couple of years, celebrating one’s birthday on the actual date of birth has real meaning: the parents (or at least, the mother) have very specific memories of the birth and since, as a little baby you lack full awareness, the birthday is as much a celebration for the family as it is for the baby.

However, once you are in your 20s, is the purpose of celebrating the birthday really to celebrate the day that your mother gave birth to you? I don’t think so. A birthday is still a celebration of you, of your life. This is why people say “Happy Birthday” and write sappy and humorous birthday messages. The birthday is the one day of the year that is consistently focused on the unabashed celebration of you, the individual. Your birthday, then, is supposed to make you happy. And, let me note that I am philosophically in firm support of having a day to celebrate the individual. Sure, there are events like graduations and job promotions which merit the celebration of individual accomplishments, but generally it seems self-indulgent and childlike to have a day that just celebrates you. But, why not celebrate you and your personality and the happiness you give people each day? This is why having a day to celebrate you is important. But that day should not be your birthday.

Why keep this life celebration day on the exact day that you get a year older, reminding you of your increasing “old” age? Why choose a distinctly unpleasurable day to celebrate a day of pleasure? I realize it is called “birthday” but we could just rename it “lifeday” (I’m sure a better name is possible. Any suggestions, readers?) and annually pick a day that is not your birthday to celebrate it. People no longer need to connect their lifeday with their age, making the day truly a celebration of their life rather than a celebration of their increase in age. Of course, you’ll still keep track of your birthday for technical reasons and you may even have a few friends who still acknowledge your birthday, but this no longer needs to detract from what should be a pleasurable personal celebration of your life.

I do recognize that it is difficult to switch to this new system, and I have no easy solutions. But, similar changes do occur with childhood birthdays. Children with winter birthdays sometimes have their celebrations delayed until warmer weather comes around. And the fact is, for some people, the pain of getting older is so significant that the transaction cost of switching from birthday to lifeday pales in comparison.

Who wants to make today their lifeday?

6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Dan on June 15, 2009 at 12:20 PM

    Josh, I don’t think that would work at all. Your “lifeday” would still occur once a year, thus it would still remind you of “your increasing ‘old’ age.” Perhaps it would not mark the exact date you turn 50, but you would still be reminded that you were only 49 years, 3 months, and 12 days on your last lifeday, and one year older today.

    The real solution is, of course, artificial age reduction … coupled with selective amnesia with respect to birth year.


  2. Posted by priya on June 20, 2009 at 9:43 PM

    or the expectation of presents… copious, awe-inspiring presents.


  3. […] breeds the expectation of getting a gift. Now, this is also true on your birthday (but we should be switching to Life Days soon, anyway), but at least then you’re the only one (or one of two, if you’re a twin) getting a gift; the […]


  4. […] my favorite sport to watch. …The Miraculous and Completely Unpredicted Development of the lifeday as the birthday’s replacement: The lifeday could tip too; with a few connectors, mavens, […]


  5. […] the expectationof getting a gift. Now, this is also true on your birthday (but we should be switching to Life Days soon, anyway), but at least then you’re the only one (or one of two, if you’re a twin) getting a gift; the […]


  6. […] the expectationof getting a gift. Now, this is also true on your birthday (but we should be switching to Life Days soon, anyway), but at least then you’re the only one (or one of two, if you’re a twin) getting a gift; […]


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