After 37 years of marriage, I've experienced a lot of Valentine's Days! But in spite of our wedded bliss, my husband Thom resists the day altogether. He argues that Valentine's Day, along with most holidays throughout the year, are all manufactured to manipulate us into buying stuff. I, on the other hand, see those very same holidays as a great excuse to have fun and party. But where does the urge to celebrate come from and which approach leads to a happier and more conscious life?
The majority of us here in U.S. have celebrated Valentine's Day since we were born. Yet the day has only been around for several centuries and was originally created from something very different than hearts, candy and flowers. Unfortunately, how we celebrate most holidays are habits that just reinforce our "confirmation bias." So what is confirmation bias, and how does that apply?
Confirmation bias is the mental process we all use to automatically arrive at decisions and conclusions based upon what we already believe to be true. Faced with scads of information and hundreds of decisions every single day, our brain's have a "default" mechanism that allow it to categorize and arrive at decisions without using much brain capacity at all. Similar to habits, confirmation bias makes us believe that our entrenched beliefs are logical and correct -- often in spite of the fact that they are sometimes founded on either wishful or even erroneous views.
So, just like most holidays in our country, the media and especially marketers are more than happy to use our very human (but lazy) thinking to encourage us to buy stuff, because that's the way our culture tells us to celebrate a holiday. Whenever we feel pressure to spend money and give gifts in order to celebrate -- chances are good that those who have something to sell have achieved their goal. That's why, as a person who attempts to live mindfully with low-consumption and simplicity, I do my best to resist the typical holiday madness.
But what about celebrating in general? Is it possible, and desirable to enjoy the best part of any holiday celebration without being sucked into automatic and unconscious behavior -- like buying junk you don't need or can't afford? And what about the opposite? Are people who resist celebrations for any reason, any less likely operating from an opposing but automatic and unconscious action?
With that in mind, here are three things related to the practice of celebrating -- or not celebrating -- the people, events and experiences in our lives:
#1 Awareness is key. Think about it, if our automatic and habitual thinking determines much of our actions far more than we realize, if we can begin to change that thinking and redirect it in a positive way, we can correspondingly redirect our actions. But it all starts with being awake and aware. We have the ability to see celebration as a good thing -- just as easily as we see it in a negative light.
A good example of being stuck in one way of thinking of celebration are those who refuse to celebrate their birthday because they choose to see aging in a negative light. Instead of "celebrating" the gift of another year of life on this planet -- some people choose to focus on how much closer they are to the end of it. If our goal in life is to find happiness, meaning and fulfillment, then let's be more conscious about why we do or do not want to celebrate our birthday or any other day.
#2 A life beyond the ordinary. I believe so many of us are vulnerable to being manipulated by marketers because it is so easy for us to slip into lives of complacency. If we exist in a place of monotony, routine and/or boredom -- and then see advertisements of people having fun, owning cool things and going exciting places -- we want to copy their actions. Unfortunately comparing or copying others never brings real satisfaction. Yet unless we realize that -- we just keep reaching for that next item or experience that will make us feel more alive.
Instead, we can choose to focus and celebrate those things right in front of us with gratitude. When we do that, we elevate the experience or thing out of the mundane and put it into the spectacular! Celebration and gratitude can be tools that lift us out of the routine and remind us of the glorious. Wouldn't you rather pick "wonderful" vs. "humdrum?"
For example, the other day Thom told me that he had just signed a commercial lease that he had been working on since last October. It didn't result in a huge income to our family, and it was a weeknight -- but I still insisted that we do something to celebrate. Breaking our routine and going out for a nice dinner in the middle of the week was a tiny step that acknowledged our day in a different way -- and we both enjoyed it very much. Again, it's always easier to do what you always do -- but then one day blends into another, into another, and before you know your entire life has passed before you eyes. A celebration helps to make any day or experience special.
#3 Do you deserve it? The final reason that I believe many people avoid "celebrations" is because many people don't know how to accept their good. Just like some people can't accept a compliment without diversion, many people refuse to celebrate their good or success because they don't feel worthy. Often those same people are happy to celebrate your birthday, or their children's special days, but can't accept anything for themselves.
This cheerless belief system often comes from a religious, cultural or family tradition that raised us from the time that we were small into thinking it is egotistical and selfish to focus on yourself. In fact, that unconscious belief promotes the idea that sacrificing yourself for others is both more spiritual and more loving. Unfortunately, that kind of thinking often creates unhappy and bitter people who instead seem to celebrate being a martyr.
While it is certainly exasperating to be around anyone who consistently puts themselves above others, it is equally annoying to be around someone who constantly puts themselves down. I believe we all deserve to celebrate and enjoy the life we have been given as much as anyone else.
Celebrating Valentine's Day may or may not be your thing. But I do know that celebrating is one of the best ways to pause, remember and be grateful for this one, wild, precious and amazing life we have been given. If you feel your life has gotten a bit boring and ordinary, or that you tend to celebrate it and every other holiday the same way, or that you don't deserve to experience an astonishing, wonderful day -- then you might want reconsider your habits. You might find that the act of celebrating is one of the most loving, kind and SMART things we can possibly do for ourselves and those we care about.
Kathy Gottberg believes in living healthy, authentic, fearless and SMART. Follow her journey at SMART Living 365.com.