I had a birthday this week. Birthdays seem to be received in such a wide variety of ways as people move deeper into adulthood. I know people who will simply not acknowledge that it is their birthday. They bristle at any greetings or gifts from loved ones, sometimes even going so far as to question the intelligence of the well-wishers, as there is simply NOT a birthday occurring on this day. I know others who somewhat-begrudgingly acknowledge their day and humbly accept their gifts and greetings, but they don’t want to talk about how old they are or dive into any deep sentiment about the passage of time and the life they have lived. They will be pleased to have the day move into tomorrow, just another day. Still others I know are more than happy to use the occasion as an excuse to have a party, eat some yummy stuff, and misbehave a bit. It is another Halloween or St. Patrick’s Day for them.
For me, though, Birthday Mode is something different. I have never been much for wild celebrations, so it is always very low-key. I enjoy the cake, of course, and hanging out with my wife and kids. I like hearing from my parents and siblings, and birthdays and holidays tend to provide us with the excuse to finally make the connection. Other than the cake and a few extra phone calls, though, the day tends to look—on the outside, anyway–like most of the others.
On the inside, though, the concept of my birthday has changed. This year I was keenly aware all day that I have come to see it as “Gratitude Day,” a day to be reminded of all of the amazing gifts in my life, which are too many to count but can definitely be felt. So, while the day seemed to go on fairly normally on the outside, I was doing an internal meditation on these innumerable blessings and just how thankful I am for them.
Of course, I thought about the many wonderful people in my life. My wife and kids–with whom I shared the cake and the laughs that day–are the very best that I could imagine, so it was cool just to bask in that kind of gratitude that comes from being up close and personal with its source. My parents and siblings are such admirable people in so many ways, and so I found myself truly absorbing and appreciating each call, FaceTime, and voicemail. These are conversations that I cherish. And while I don’t have many close friends, I was well reminded of them and how interconnected they are with the story of my life. Without them, there is not me, and it was nice to take some time to ruminate on that idea.
The group of people that surprised me most in my level of gratitude for them was the Facebook crowd. Seriously! This is the first year I have been on Facebook—yes, I am a little slow to join the new millennium—and one of the people closest to me said that I should make open to the public as little about me as possible. She said she doesn’t list her birthday because she doesn’t want people who barely know her wishing her a Happy Birthday. I didn’t listen, of course, so how pleasantly surprised I was to get a little shout-out from dozens and dozens of folks, mostly old high school mates and distant relations. Though I would probably not recognize all of their faces if I saw them today, I was somehow very touched and appreciative of the little moment it took them to just type “Happy BDay” or the like. It reminded me of where I came from and also of the importance of small gestures and how I need to do better with them, as I was certainly grateful to every one of those folks who took that little moment. People are good!
Already in the gratitude flow, I found myself really aware of the little things that I generally take for granted. As a middle-class American suburbanite in the 21st century, I live so amazingly comfortably compared to most anyone in the history of the world. There is a fridge full of food and money to buy more. I know I will be warm through a Minnesota Winter. Everyone in my family is healthy, and we can see a doctor any time that changes. My bookshelves are full, and the library is nearby in a pinch. And I have the privilege of not having to think about this stuff everyday, leaving me free to do things like studying life coaching and writing this letter to you. It is definitely a good gig, this one of mine.
Finally, I took a page from The Secret and expressed my gratitude for all of the magnificence to come. Actually, I find myself doing this almost every day in my journal entries. I am in the habit of sharing my thanks in advance for the many wonderful blessings that are surely on the way (it helps that I see everything as a blessing in my philosophy). For me, this helps me to walk each day in gratitude and to maintain my unbridled optimism for the future. In that vein, this is how I closed my journal entry on my birthday afternoon:
I am going to have a very good 43rd year. I can feel that. There is so much growth out there for me, and I am wildly grateful for that. Lots of change, lots of growth, lots of Love, lots of fun, lots of memories. I am really, really excited for what is coming. I am about to jump out of my skin as I think about it right now. The Universe and I will be sharing our gifts with one another. I am SO excited. It truly is a happy Happy Birthday and Gratitude Day that I am basking in right now. God permeates. I am oozing Peace. Life is beautiful.
How about you? What are you grateful for today? Open up your journal and remind yourself why it is good to be alive and be you. What are the circumstances you are most thankful for? Do you have food and shelter? Do you have enough money to pay for those things? Do you feel safe where you live? Are you reading this on a computer or smartphone? Are you allowed to freely express yourself? Do you have the chance to pursue your dreams? Are you educated? If you answered “yes” to any of those things, you are off to a good start. If “yes” to all, how blessed you are! How about the people in your life? Think about all of your friends and family members who make your little corner of the world a place you appreciate. Which ones would you not trade for a million dollars? How many people would take that moment out of their day to send you a Facebook birthday wish? Would that moment make you smile the way it made me smile? Are you grateful for that moment? What about the coming moments? Do you allow yourself to be grateful in anticipation of good things to come? Is your level of optimism about the future reflected in the level of anticipatory gratitude you feel toward it, or do you keep these things separate? How do you treat your birthday? Do you deny it or embrace it? Do you celebrate big? Does it draw you into deep thought about your life and its many blessings? If you are like me, your birthday has become a lot like what the other big holidays have become: a chance to give thanks for this beautiful Life. Leave me a reply and let me know: Do you celebrate Gratitude Day?
Let your light shine,