Birthdays cause anxiety in me. There’s too much societal expectations around that day — to be exceptionally happy, to celebrate, to have a blast, and if you know of anyone’s birthday to make the person feel special. At the same time, I fail to understand why should it draw as much fuss. The expectation and the doubt in parallel makes me restless, and this has been growing in me over the last 4 years or so.
My birthday was (and still remains) understandably special for my parents and they’ve always insisted on some form of celebration. As a kid, I used to look forward to my birthday — in particular, to the party where friends would come over and bring me presents. I’d be unhappy if there were no celebrations. The celebrations outshone the significance of the day. The gifts brought me joy. Over the years I’ve grown over these. Even thought of receiving gifts makes me uneasy. Guess I’m ageing.
Celebration follows happiness, and not the other way round (which I’d classify as partying — to break out of monotony and attain pseudo-happiness). Birthday by itself hardly brings me any joy (except from few nostalgic memories). There are days in life when I’m way happier. Heck, there are days at work when I’m happier. When I look back, I find that I usually derive happiness and pleasure from accomplishments — things I’ve worked towards, and achieved. It could be a contest, an interview, an exam, a race or a personal / life goal. If it’s consequential enough, it’ll spark a celebration. While one could claim that birthday is a celebration of all the little successes over the entire year, in reality though I am yet to attend a birthday celebration that comes anywhere close to capturing that spirit.
Today birthdays feel overrated. Perhaps as a consequence, I’m really bad at remembering them (including the best of my friends’) — and I put no effort at getting better at it. I seldom wish people on birthdays, and when I do it’s mostly a social obligation. However, on the other hand, when people confide in me their aspirations or when I discover something that they’re working towards, I wish them with all my sincerity. The journey and the outcome is extremely clear in my head. There’s clarity in what I’m wishing for.
In an unequivocal tweet, Ramesh Srivats says “Pride and shame are for actions in which I had a choice.” I’d like to extend the notion and say that celebrations too should be based on actions (and accomplishments) where one had a choice. My birthday happens each year. It isn’t my choice. I just manage to live through a year, and it comes back again. Survival, even in India, is such a low bar for celebrations. These views may change in the future, but this is how I feel today.
As I write this post, the anxiety is at its peak. Wish there was a fix. Wish people celebrated accomplishments, and not mere days.