Tomorrow, Monday, January 6th, is my birthday and I’m not sure how I feel about it. On my fiftieth, I had just ended a marriage and I remember being devastated when someone welcomed me into the half century club, a club that I had no desire to join, especially now that I was alone. Now I’m way past fifty. The venerable Buddhist Rinpoche Chogyam Trungpa doesn’t wish people “Happy Birthday.” He says “Cheerful Birthday” instead. In his opinion, happiness is a state of mind with unhappiness on its flip side. Cheerfulness, on the other hand, describes an attitude in which you can make friends with yourself.
Birthdays used to mean a lot of different things to me in the past. They were about being celebrated by friends, receiving gifts, feeling special, having a great dinner, making a wish, blowing out candles and eating cake. They had an element of stress attached as I hoped that people wouldn’t forget and I felt obligated to envision a sparkly future for myself. They were about looking outward to measure my worth according to what I got and who showed up for me. This can be a dicey concept, a trap filled with unfulfilled expectations and disappointments. I know a couple who have terrible fights on their birthdays. He inevitably forgets. She spends more money than he thinks she should. The article of clothing doesn’t fit. The outing isn’t fun. He gives her three cards. She gives him one and he feels deprived. And the list of disappointments goes on and on.
Some years back, I decided to take responsibility for my own birthday and as a result, I enjoy them so much more. I look inward and see how I want to celebrate myself and the gift of life that my parents gave me. At the risk of sounding insincere or blissed out (I’m far from that) or Pollyanna-ish, simply waking up in the morning is something to celebrate, especially on my birthday. So many people I know (more and more, the older I get), don’t have that privilege any longer. And then there’s the fact that I can stand up, walk around and be relatively pain free. Even if I start the day feeling dread, upset or scared, I can find my balance by remembering that existence is a gift in itself. A short one. I work hard to see each day as an opportunity to create beauty, to learn more about myself and others, to keep my heart open and feel my feelings. Instead of counting how many people wish me well when my birthday rolls around, I make a concerted effort to think about celebrating my friendships, engaging with people I love and having a chance to learn something new or see something beautiful. I try to transform the idea of “getting” into one of “giving.” I don’t measure my worth by numbers. I’m more interested in the quality of my relationships than how many there are. If I want someone to call me, I call them instead. I’m interrupting a negative pattern by cutting it off at the pass and taking the helm for the day so I don’t end up disappointed. As spiritual teacher Stephen Levine wisely said, “No appointments, no disappointments.”
Cheerful Birthday to all of you. Thanks for being my friend.