07/17/2014 11:11 am ET Updated Sep 16, 2014

Keeping The 'Happy' in 'Happy Birthday'

Tetra Images - Jessica Peterson via Getty Images

I had a birthday this week. Normally I love my birthday, mostly because it's an excuse to eat a cookie cake without people passing judgement (unless they do so silently).

When I was a kid, I would count down the weeks until my big day, knowing I would finally be a year older and closer to being an adult. When the day finally arrived, my parents would wake me up singing "Happy Birthday." I would pretend to hate it, but would secretly love the attention, even if my dad was off key.

In the years leading up to my 20s, I continued to look forward to my birthday. The 21st birthday is a coveted one because it means you can throw the fake ID away, or at least give it to another deserving soul. The 25th birthday marked what I believed to be the age when people would start taking me seriously.

They didn't.

Once I got into my 30s, however, I stopped counting down to birthdays with excitement and starting counting down with dread. I began thinking of those final days as the last moments I would be young and would cringe when the pending days came to a close.

This year I realized that's not the way I want to live my life. I turned 34 this year. Yes, 34. I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm in my mid-thirties and am no longer the young woman I used to be, and I'm OK with it.

Yes, I'm starting to see sun spots on my face and my chest is starting to show signs of years of sunbathing with baby oil. My feet are starting to ache when I stand too long and my stomach is far more sensitive than it used to be. The scars from my gallbladder surgery hurt when I eat too much and I know that sitting on bleachers will irritate my sciatica.

I know all this, and yet I'm not sad. I'm happy about it.

Why? Because those sun spots on my face and chest are from vacations with my loved ones and afternoons at the pool with my friends. The aching feet are from years of exploring the world, hiking a mountain, walking The Brooklyn Bridge and running a 5k.

My sensitive stomach is from years of drinking beer at the bar and eating at five-star restaurants in Beverly Hills. My gallbladder scars are from when I was hospitalized and became friends with my roommate. My sciatica acts up when I sit on bleachers from all the years of baseball games, World Series games, tailgaiting and college bowl games.

Yes, my body may be more achy than I'd like for it to be. Yes, my skin may not be as resilient as it once was. But my soul? My soul is enriched more each year because of the life experiences I've had.

I'm not the person I was when I was 25 and for that I'm grateful. I don't want to be that person. Not that she was bad, she wasn't. I liked her when I was 25. But now I'm the new and improved model. I may have signs of wear and tear, but I think I'm better than ever.

So this year I'm celebrating turning 34. I don't mean just celebrating with a cake and a day at the spa, although I certainly did both of those things. Rather, I'm talking about celebrating the 33 years I've been on this planet, creating memories and enjoying those I love.

I am going to look back over my years and take note of my accomplishments and my failures, because both have made me who I am. I will also look forward to getting older instead of dreading it. I will embrace each coming year, knowing I'm a better person each year because of the life I am living.

So when people wish me happy birthday, I won't roll my eyes and complain about getting older. I will thank them and remind myself that my birthday truly is a happy time. It's a time to celebrate life and making it through this crazy world one more year.

I will definitely drink to that (and then wash it down with cake).