“…celebrating is one of the best ways to pause and remember this one, wild, precious and amazing life we have been given.”
I know I have mentioned more than once that Thom and I have been married for 35 years. That’s a lot of Valentine’s Days! And in spite of what you may be thinking, Thom has always resisted them. His argument is that Valentine’s Day—along with several other holidays throughout the year, were all manufactured to manipulate us into buying stuff. I, on the other hand, see those very same holidays as a great excuse to CELEBRATE something special. So keeping in mind that a major focus of SMART Living is to provide clarity and awareness about all things that affect our lives on a daily basis, how do you view celebrating holidays?
The truth is that Valentine’s Day is one of those holidays that has been practiced here in the U.S. since most of us were born. It’s easy to forget that it has been around for at least several centuries and was originally created for something very different than the current heart, candy and flowers that we associate it with. Just like Christmas and Easter, and so many other notable days in the year, our “confirmation bias” creates our experience far beyond any original purpose. And that can be a problem. So what is confirmation bias, and why does that matter?
I’ve written about it before, but to put it briefly, confirmation bias is the mental process we all use to automatically arrive at decisions based upon what we already believe to be true. Because our brains are faced with scads of information and hundreds of decisions every single day, it has a “default” mechanism that allows it to categorize and arrive at decisions without using much brain capacity at all. Confirmation bias is something we all do so automatically that most of the time we aren’t aware it is in operation. Similar to habits, confirmation bias makes us believe that our entrenched beliefs are logical and correct—often in spite of the fact that they are founded on both wishful or even erroneous views.
So before I go too far, I’ll admit that Valentine’s Day is ingrained into my psyche in an automatic way. Just like most holidays in our country, the media and especially marketers are more than happy to use our very human (but lazy) thinking to encourage us to buy stuff, because that’s the way our culture tells us to celebrate a holiday. Whenever we feel pressure to spend money and give gifts in order to celebrate—there’s a good chance that those who have something to sell have achieved their goal. That’s why as a person who attempts to live mindfully with low-consumption and simplicity, I do my best to resist the typical holiday madness.
But what about celebrating? Is it possible, and desirable to keep the best part of any holiday celebration without being sucked into automatic and unconscious behavior—like buying junk you don’t need or can’t afford? And what about the opposite? Are people who resist celebration for any one of a variety of reasons, any less likely operating from an opposing but automatic and unconscious action?
That line of thinking led me to exploring three things that I believe are related to the practice of celebrating—or not celebrating—the people, events and experiences in our lives. Let’s see if you agree:
#1 Awareness is the key. As I mentioned above, automatic and habitual thinking often determines our actions far more than we realize. If that is so, then we actually have the power to be able to change that thinking and redirect it in a positive way if we choose, but we have to be conscious to start with. With that in mind, we can choose to see celebration as a good thing—just as easily as we see it in a negative light. Let’s just remember that our past thinking often predisposes our future. So decide right here and now how you would like to think of celebration in the future and then do it!
A good example of being stuck into a way of thinking of celebration are those who get all wiggy about celebrating birthdays. Lots of people refuse to celebrate a birthday because they choose to see aging in a negative light. Instead of “celebrating” the gift of another year of life on this planet—some people choose to focus on how much closer they are to the end of it. If our goal in life is to find happiness, meaning and fulfillment, then we’d be wise to stay conscious about why we do or do not want to celebrate our birthday or any other day.
#2 A life beyond the ordinary. One reason why I believe so many of us are vulnerable to being manipulated by marketers is because it is so easy for us to slip into lives of complacency. The problem with that is then our lives often become routine or even boring—and when we see advertisements of people having fun, owning cool things and going exciting places we want to copy their actions. Unfortunately copying others never brings real satisfaction—but unless we realize that—we just keep tying to copy that new and more exciting thing or experiences.
INSTEAD—when we choose to focus and celebrate those things right in front of us with gratitude and thanksgiving, we elevate the experience or thing out of the mundane and put it into the spectacular! Celebrating can be a tool that lifts us out of the routine and reminds us of the glorious. Sure you could call this a “mind trick”—but if we are choosing one or the other anyway, wouldn’t we rather pick “wonderful” vs. “humdrum?”
For example, the other day Thom told me that he had just signed a commercial lease that he had been working on since last October. (For those who don’t know, Thom’s is a commercial real estate broker.) It didn’t result in a huge amount of income to our family, and it was a weekend night—but I still insisted that we do something to celebrate. It wasn’t much, but we decided to break our routine and go out for a nice dinner in the middle of the week. Just that tiny step acknowledged that this day was different in some way—and we both enjoyed it very much. Again, it’s always easier to do the routine—but then one day blends into another, into another, and before you know your entire life has passed before you eyes. A celebration helps to make any day or experience special.
#3 Do you deserve it? The final reason that I believe many people avoid “celebrations” is because many people don’t know how to accept their good. Just like some people can’t accept a compliment without diversion, many people refuse to celebrate their good or success because they don’t feel worthy. Many of those same people are happy to celebrate your birthday, or their children’s special days, but can’t accept anything for themselves.
This cheerless belief system often comes from a religious, cultural or family tradition that raised us from the time that we were small into thinking it is egotistical and selfish to focus on yourself. In fact, that unconscious belief promotes the idea that sacrificing yourself for others is both more spiritual and more loving. Unfortunately, that kind of thinking often creates unhappy and bitter people who instead seem to celebrate being a martyr. While it is certainly exasperating to be around anyone who consistently puts themselves above others, it is equally annoying to be around someone who constantly puts themselves down. I happen to believe that every single person on the planet is special and unique—and that means you and me too. It doesn’t make us better, but it does mean that we deserve to celebrate and enjoy the life we have been given as much as anyone else. Of course, it doesn’t really matter what I believe—what matters is what you believe you deserve.
Celebrating Valentine’s Day may or may not be your thing. But I do know that celebrating is one of the best ways to pause and remember this one, wild, precious and amazing life we have been given. If you feel your life has gotten a bit boring and ordinary, or that you tend to celebrate it and every other holiday the same way, or that you don’t deserve to experience an astonishing, wonderful day—then you might want to dig deep inside. If you believe, like some of us do, that we are here to express and experience the amazing gift of Life, then the act of celebrating just might be the most loving, kind and spiritual thing we can possibly do for ourselves and those we care about.