Every person reacts differently when his or hers birthday arrives. The common social convention is of course to celebrate them in one way or another, and that is what most people do. But there are also those who couldn’t care less and don’t like all the fuss that surrounds it
A birthday is widely considered as a celebration of life. Another step up the ladder. It comes to signify achievement, and it offers a good opportunity for some soul-searching, especially if you’re the melancholy type.
Then there are those “glass half empty” downer types who like to think of birthdays as “getting one year older and closer to The End”. It’s a two faced coin. Aging is an inherent facet of birthdays. It’s how you look at it that makes all the difference. Are you aging happily? Are you feeling content with your life in some degree or another?Of course, birthdays are most fun when you’re a kid, when each year brings huge changes in personality and looks. Maybe the Celebration serves as the counterbalance for the horrors of puberty.

All in all, most people love a good party, and birthdays are primarily an excuse for one. They don’t have to be celebrated in huge clubs with loads of people to be meaningful, though. A nice afternoon with your loved one or just a handful of good friends could to the trick just as well or even better. I guess it all depends on what kind of person you are. Do you need to have lots of people around so you won’t feel lonely?
Then there’s the gifts issue. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, is that expensive gifts aren’t necessarily the best ones. The best ones are those that come from the heart. The ones that takes time to prepare. It could be a drawing your kid did for you. A music disc a friend burned for you. In birthdays, as in life, emotional truth beats commercial superficiality almost every time.

But naturally, this is very hard to get right. Many times, you don’t know the person well enough to be able to get him something really special. In fact, Gift Politics is another matter, which does not only apply for birthdays, of course.
In workplaces, for example, it’s customary to collect a small amount of money from everyone to buy a decent gift for the Birthday Guy or Girl, instead of every person buying something small. So then, when someone approaches you and asks: “Would you like to give 5 dollars to buy a birthday present for John/Jill?” you begin to ponder whether you know them well enough to pay for a present. Usually, the PC thing to do is to shell out the money, but once in a while each and every one of us can’t help but feel a little bit like Gorge Costanza in those situations.

Some people are very hard to buy gifts for. As a general rule, the better you know the person, the easier it should get, but that is not always the case. People with specific hobbies are the easiest. If the guy collects stamps, just buy him stamps and make him happy. Although, if you need to buy him a present every year, it becomes problematic. You can’t just keep buying stamps all the time.
So then comes the inquiry stage: You begin asking people who may know the person more intimately than you what do they think he or she really needs or wants right now (in material terms, of course).
Some people love to receive gifts (the vast majority, I would guess), and some hate it. I’ll admit. I’m with the majority. It’s fun to get presents. It’s also fun to give presents, but for different reasons. Giving presents, especially the right ones, endows you with that rare treat: Making someone happy. The fun in getting presents has to do with the reason people love celebrating their birthdays in the first place. It putsyou in the center of attention and makesyou feel special. Most people love to feel special (in a good way), even if it’s just for one day. Or one season of a reality show.
Some people, though, don’t like to be in the center of attention and view it as a narcissist waste of time. They feel that all the energy spent on birthday celebrations could be spent on more productive endeavors.

There is an undeniable tendency in the Western world to find causes for celebrations. Christmas and Halloween have long become commercial festivals. New Year’s day is One Huge Shindig. We have birthdays, wedding anniversaries, promotions at work, baby showers, bachelor parties, graduations, etc, etc. It stems from a certain kind of comfortable – some may say – spiritually vapid existence, but I think you need to be a real curmudgeon to deny people a chance to celebrate and be happy. It’s fun, it’s releasing, it’s healthy, it’s socially beneficial.
There are always those who keep on “celebrating”, staying in perpetual high, either by alcohol or by drugs, unwilling to let the party lights dim and the music turned off. Unable to stand the quiet. That is the other end of the spectrum, the Western Perpetual Party Man, people that want to feel like every day is their birthday because they find it hard to face life. (for that matter, I never understood the pressing need for alcohol at parties. Isn’t celebrating something a great high in itself? Do we really need to get drunk?)
But too much celebrating, like every other thing in life, is not recommended. It makes the celebration itself the norm instead of the wonderful exception it should be. Humans were not made to be perpetually happy, nor perpetually sad. That’s just the way it is, and that’s how it’s supposed to be.

So… did you get me something nice?!


1 comment so far

  1. Matthew P on

    personally, i’m not a birthday person…I like other people’s birthdays, but when it comes to my own I really couldn’t care

    not so much out of narcissism, or a fear of getting older because i will live forever…and not in any cliche spiritual sense either

    i guess i just feel weird being the center of attention…besides, i already have everything i need…no presents required

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