Do you suffer from Birthday Letdown Syndrome? Your birthday is coming, and you have such high hopes that it will be all you wished for and more. Even if you’re not a big birthday person, I’ll bet you still have a few unspoken expectations for the day. All of that anticipation builds, and no matter how great the day is, it’s never quite how or what you expected. Then, the letdown comes. Dissatisfied and discontent, you turn the page, and start another year of life.
I love birthdays. Mine and pretty much everyone else’s. I experience the letdown when my own expectations aren’t met for how I want to be celebrated or how I want others to respond to my efforts to celebrate them. Somehow, it’s just never enough.
Three years ago, I turned 40, and I was determined not to let expectation ruin my landmark day. I took the advice of Ann Voskamp, and I spent my birthday making others feel special. You can read all about that day in the book Chicken Soup for the Soul: Random Acts of Kindness: 101 Stories of Compassion and Paying It Forward (my story is #69). It was probably my best birthday ever. (And having my story published in a book was the icing on the cake!).
Still, the letdown lingered over the next couple of years. Sure, there were bursts of happiness and surprise that made those birthdays wonderful, but expectation continued to whisper in my ear. Today, though, I turned 43 years old. It was the first time I could hardly even look forward to my birthday; there have just been too many other things on my mind and plate lately.
I tuned out expectation and treated today like a regular day, knowing that I’d get cards from my kids and husband and a bunch of happy birthday wishes on Facebook, not looking for anything more. In doing so, I found contentment. The little gestures meant so much more; I wasn’t looking beyond them for greater acknowledgement.
Going on a field trip for the morning with my daughter and her class became an exciting adventure, and when I arrived home, a dear friend and her young son were waiting at the table on my front sidewalk with a balloon and cupcake to celebrate me. We sat out back in the sunshine and ate yogurt and clementines and caught up on each other’s lives.
Another friend “flocked” my yard with flamingos, which brought feelings of both delight and wistfulness. She and I unexpectedly lost a mutual friend last month whose signature bird was the flamingo. I was glad to remember our friend and to celebrate her memory by choosing joy and gratitude, as she always did.
The afternoon was like any other, with work to do and errands to run and kids to shuttle, but I took advantage of the few extra minutes following a quick trip to the library after school to sit outside and read in the sunshine with my daughter while we waited for the rest of the kids to straggle out. The book I chose was The Love Dare for Parents, and the first day’s challenge is to make sure you tell your children you love them. So, as opportunities arose, I individually expressed my love and appreciation to each of my five children, which made me love them even more!
As a family, we enjoyed one of my favorite meals, which was both simple to prepare and eagerly eaten by all of my children, with no groans or complaints (now, there’s a gift!). I didn’t make a cake for myself either. I ate the cupcake my friend brought me, and everyone else happily ate ice cream.
We closed out the evening like any other, and here I sit, content with a day well-lived. Finding contentment on this birthday has had a lot to do with mindset- choosing to receive each moment with gratitude. This might be right up there with my best birthday ever, and for that I am thankful.
What was your favorite birthday, and what made it special?