Celebrating Birthdays

Photo: Aih

One week ago, my family and I celebrated my father’s 75th birthday.  Even writing that number I find shocking (probably almost as shocking as my father finds reading it).  Birthdays have always represented the most important of all celebrations in my family—more important certainly than any local or national holidays.  What, after all, could be more important to celebrate for a person and the people who love him or her than the fact of their existence?  For what should any of us be more grateful?

Even more than Thanksgiving, birthdays for me represent an occasion to feel gratitude for being alive.  For this reason, every year on my birthday, I try to take a moment to list all the things for which I’m grateful.  Of course, what makes the list changes year to year.  The feeling of gratitude has been shown in studies to enhance subjective well-being, so in listing the thing below for which I’m grateful, I hope to encourage readers to do the same.

In no particular order, I’m grateful:

  1. That the willingness to work hard was somehow built into me.
  2. For excellence in any place I find it.
  3. For the good relationships I have with my family (especially my parents).
  4. For a wife who equals (and in some arenas surpasses) me.
  5. For four good limbs.
  6. For having produced a son with a terrific laugh.
  7. For a practice that enables me to challenge and overcome my weaknesses, even those of which I’m not aware.
  8. For 21st century technology.
  9. For colleagues who are smarter than I am.
  10. That I learned how to say no.
  11. For a job that matters.
  12. For first chances.
  13. That I retain the ability to be humbled.
  14. For a belief in the idea that I’m here to make the world better.
  15. For the ability and willingness to change my mind when I’m proven wrong.
  16. That my parents are still married.
  17. That other people care.
  18. For books and the power of sight to read them.
  19. That I know the exact value of money.
  20. For my mother’s German chocolate cake (which she bakes for me every year on my birthday).

What things make your list?

Next WeekHow To Overcome Shyness

21 comments to Celebrating Birthdays

  • Emily

    I am grateful for…

    —My ambition and drive to succeed
    —My ability to be independent
    —My body’s strength and relative health.
    —My mind’s ability to learn, understand, and create.
    —All of the gorgeous technology that makes my scientific research possible and entertains me endlessly.
    —The fact that I have had access to so many great opportunities

    (Hey, isn’t this what the Thanksgiving holiday is for?) 🙂

  • Audrey from MA

    I’m grateful for my loving and lovable dog.

    I’m grateful that I have health insurance.

  • Maxine

    I’m grateful that…

    1. I’m still curious
    2. I ‘m still amazed and amused at the world
    3. My sons are good and interesting human beings
    4. My brain still works
    5. Nothing physical prevents me from exercising
    6. I have the ability to think a few steps ahead
    7. I love of puzzles and figuring things out
    8. Darwin wrote Origin of Species
    9. I can make people happy with my cooking
    10. The world has puppies
    11. I have one good eye, literally
    12. My parents gave me good genes
    13. I’m not that into “stuff”

    Maxine: Great list. I especially like #8.

    Alex

  • Lori

    I get being grateful for the things in your life, but being grateful for life itself & celebrating your birth? Who am I thanking for my life (god, my parents)? And does it really matter that any one of us is here? Is life really better than death? And what are we really celebrating when we celebrate our birthdays? Our egos? Life itself (because we think life is essentially good and death is bad)? The more time here, the better? The passage of time? Survival of the fittest? “Wow, I’m thankful I haven’t died yet like so-and-so…” I do not celebrate my birthday. It doesn’t seem like much of an accomplishment…just luck really.

    Lori: I agree your birth doesn’t represent much of an accomplishment for you, but your life does (as does having raised you for your parents). I don’t think gratitude requires a recipient for it to be felt or benefit the person who feels it. And, yes, I believe it can matter that we’re here, depending on what we do while we are. Yes, life is good. Whether death is bad, I don’t yet know.

    Alex

  • Your list is good except I don’t have a wife and my mother is not around to make apple pie anymore. One of the best for me was a life that wasn’t trapped in the capitalist slog of early to work and late home and no time to smell the roses. The roses being
    reading, riding, friends and maybe a good joke and the list, as you know, goes on and on.

  • Su

    Today would have been my father’s 72nd birthday, and I find the synchronicity of your article interesting. He passed away June 1 and I am in England dealing with the details of his funeral.

    I am grateful that as a family we can come together to celebrate his life.
    I am grateful that there are no fights or conflicts (so far).
    I am grateful that he was loved so well by his friends when he lived an ocean away from his children.
    I am grateful that he left a will with some details concerning his funeral.
    I am grateful to hear stories of his life that I haven’t heard before.
    I am grateful that I got a chance to chat with him recently.
    I am grateful he died quickly, at home.
    I am grateful for the love between us.
    I am grateful for my own strength.
    I am grateful for the ability to drop everything to be here.
    I am grateful to be so much like him; he will always be with me.
    I am grateful to take the time to write this down.

    Happy Birthday, Dad.

    Thank you, Alex

    Su: Made me tear up a little. Thank you.

    Alex

  • Jedda

    Alex,
    I learned to practice gratitude many years ago when unforeseen circumstances caused me to lose my 25-year career as a commercial artist and I landed in a “temp” position at a drug and alcohol non-profit. I was hired and spent two very rewarding years working with folks in recovery who learn the incredible power of practicing gratitude as part of AA principles. I now understand that I was in that job to learn that message and it has served me well anytime life throws a curve ball. It’s very simple and it works. Aren’t we just incredibly lucky to be living with clean running water and indoor plumbing? How about a clean bed, food to eat, and roof over our heads? That’s more than many in our world can say, for starters. Thanks for the post and reminder. Always a pleasure.

  • Franceen

    My 92-year-old mother just died and I wrote a eulogy based on the qualities in her that I witnessed and that I had come to be grateful for; these qualities reflected those that emerged over the last six years that she lived near me and I took care of her. This eulogy would have been very different if I described the mother who raised my sisters and me—she was wanting as a mother of small children and our childhood was painful—as much for what loving things weren’t said or done as for the painful things that were said and done.

    Fast forward to being an adult and focusing on my “new” relationship with my mother and on what I was grateful for—that eulogy was joyful and celebratory …and honest. It is very helpful to find gratitude where ever you can!

  • Diana Decker

    My list: I am grateful
    1. That my niece could call me on Skype from Florida so I could talk many times with her and her mom, my oldest sister, who died on May 3.
    2. For Kathy calling me on Skype last Friday. She’ll continue doing that.
    3. For my other sister’s help since I have been homebound with illness
    4. For improving my relationship with her
    5. For having ways to combat my sadness and continually growing
    6. For having ways to combat my thoughts that I’m not likeable
    7. For Jerry coming over to hug and talk with me before the SGI meeting yesterday—meant a lot
    8. For a video on how to see illness as an opportunity, not an obstacle
    9. For being able to do more and more activities, though still ill
    10. For changing to a career in communications
    11. For overcoming my inability to express myself
    12. For being the local cactus and succulent society’s newsletter editor.
    13. For my five cats, all rescues—3 are 15 years old; two are 9 years old. Two were very sick recently (something they caught from the cats outside I’m feeding?) but have totally recovered
    14. For my continued efforts in rescuing cats
    15. For getting Cinnamon a home and now working on that for Ben, who lives on my porch
    16. For my friend who took me to ER in March when a small cat tooth puncture developed into a major infection and for the hand doctor who did the surgery
    17. For my friends who have supported me
    18. For re-establishing contact with some of my high school classmates. That was a very sad time for me.
    19. For continuing to grow and improve my spirit
    20. For this blog

    Diana: 🙂

    Alex

  • Nicely done.

    And generously done—to encourage us to think about our own situations.

  • Elly

    I am grateful for friends and family.

    I am grateful that this planet still supports so many amazing creatures on it.

  • Brendalee

    Thank you so much for this. It brought back the many years I spent in NA, making gratitude lists daily. The top of the list always began with “I am grateful for being clean today.” I don’t write out gratitude lists any more; just got out of the practice I guess. But every morning I wake up and I say out loud “I am grateful for being clean today.” Because you see, without that, there would be no gratitude for anything else. Anyway…

    I wanted to tell you that for years I didn’t really think my birthday should be celebrated, and it always puzzled me why people celebrated birthdays. I know I celebrate my daughter’s birthday b/c she is the most important thing in my life and the day she was born was the most special day in my life. I never felt that such a fuss should be made over me. So, this year, I decided that I am good enough and special enough to celebrate the day of my birth. Finally, after 49 years, I have reached the time in my life when I like who I have become. That is the second most grateful thing I have today, right behind being clean.

    Thank you so much, Alex.

  • Roxana

    Alex—

    I always enjoy reading your posts; in fact, I look forward to them. They’re incredibly well-written (I’m a professional writer myself), inspiring, and thought-provoking. However, this time, your humanistic tone detoured in your “Things I’m Grateful For” list. Specifically, I refer to #4 re your wife.

    You say you’re grateful, “For a wife who equals (and in some arenas surpasses) me.” I cannot imagine living in a first-world democracy where this type of “back-handed compliment” might seem something other than condescending (at the least) or misogynist (at the most). Can you imagine a woman (your wife, perhaps) putting on her list that she’s grateful “For a husband who equals (and in some arena surpasses) me”? Do you hear the tone? Do you understand why you (if she had indeed written such a thing) might feel…well…condescended to? Of course we are grateful for our loving partners/mates who are of course our “equals” (why would any thinking person WANT to partner with someone less than—or more than—”equal” to us, and what would “not equal” mean in this vein?). Of course our partners sometimes/often/usually have qualities/traits that surpass our own qualities/traits. Of course. Only an egoist might not think so?

    You’re usually so well-grounded in humanistic, non-androcentric thinking. Perhaps—just perhaps—you might re-read and then re-think your language in #4? It comes across in a way that probably does not highlight your intent, or highest ideals.

    Thanks.

    Roxana D.

    Roxana: Interesting. I wondered if I would be accused of being arrogant because of #4 (thinking I’m so superior that finding a partner who equals or surpasses me would be difficult), but your point actually takes me by surprise (I suppose because I don’t think of women as anything other than the equals of men). I do, however, recognize that many do, so I concede your point about the language. When my wife read that line, however, she took it as a compliment that was in no way backhanded. And because it is something for which I’m genuinely grateful, I stand by its inclusion in the list. Thank you, however, for pointing out that it might come across to some in a way that doesn’t highlight my intent. I wasn’t thinking about how difficult it was to find a woman who matches me well, but rather a person.

    Alex

  • My (growing) list is appearing in blog-ette form, although I call it “Why I’m happy” instead of “Why I’m grateful.” Maybe the terminology doesn’t matter too much, but I’m trying to correct my long-standing idea that I’m not that happy. Actually, I am!

    It really is immensely satisfying and healthy (in the broadest sense of the word) to concentrate on the good things, however we decide to do it.

    Thanks to the earlier commenters. I’d say to Lori: your birth has given you the opportunity to experience many things and make a difference to others (however you may do that). I try to think of the “experience” in other terms than “good” or “bad,” though that’s not always easy.

    Thanks for the post, Alex!

  • Diana Decker

    Alex, I agree with you. When I first began reading Roxana’s message I had to stop. Had to go back to it when I had more time and patience. I had absolutely no problem with #4. Actually I heard a minister say that about his wife on Sunday. Then she stood up at the podium and said they don’t always agree, though she’s always right—with a smile.

    Diana: As I wrote to Roxana, I didn’t see it as she did, but if there’s one thing writing this blog has taught me it’s that collective wisdom is greater than any one person’s. I imagine others may have reacted as she did, so I’m grateful she brought it up as it gave me the chance to address an issue that hadn’t occurred to me would be an issue.

    Alex

  • Steve Dude

    I’m grateful for:

    —A loving family
    —That there was someone to love out there, after all!
    —Retaining a sense of awe and curiosity
    —My myriad good fortune
    —Creativity
    —Religion which fosters what it is to be truly human

    🙂 Yep

  • Pamela

    I am grateful for…

    —having a lovely daughter who touched so many hearts… though she left us 7 months ago
    —having left another son in my life
    —having a very good partner in life who loves me dearly
    —being able to chant nam myo ho renge kyo
    —having a good relationship with my mum-in-law (who stays with us) and the rest of the family

    Pamela: Ah, so sorry to hear about your daughter.

    Alex

  • Allie

    I am grateful for:

    1) A fiancé I love, who challenges me and with whom I share a strong, trusting relationship.
    2) A family I love and that I am (even more) challenged by 😉

    3) Great health.
    4) Spring in Sweden.
    5) North Carolina mountains.
    6) The fact that people never cease to surprise you.
    7) My desire to improve myself and always learn more.
    8) My friends.

    And much more 🙂

    I enjoy your posts very much. Thank you!

    Allie: You’re welcome. And thank you.

    Alex

  • Iris Arenson-Fuller

    Grateful…

    …For a family of origin that instilled in me the values of love, learning and loyalty, as well as compassion and personal integrity…

    …For the internal strength to have survived multiple losses and tragedy and for the blessing of having had work that allowed/allows me to give back to the world and help others in meaningful ways (I founded and directed an adoption agency for almost 30 yrs, am a life coach and also a writer)…

    …For the family and friends now in my life…

  • JL Rivers

    I’m grateful because this recession has allowed me to spend more time with my two year old son. 🙂

  • thquah

    I am grateful:

    • For the support of my wife all these years (24 years)
    • For the support of my mother who cares a lot for me
    • For my employer who covered all our medical expenses during our difficult times
    • For having a great loving daughter even though it was just a short span
    • For my daughter who has touched many people’s hearts even she is no longer here
    • For a great relationship with my wife, also my best friend
    • For being able to embrace SGI Buddhism since 1984, and for Daisaku Ikeda who started worldwide propagation.
    • For not being in debt

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