Most of us celebrate the many big events in our lives: religious holidays such as Christmas and Ramadan; personal commemorations like birthdays and anniversaries; and generally abstract state-sanctioned celebrations such as New Year’s Day. However, we tend to plow through life at such a pace that we seldom take the time to celebrate the most important thing: life.
Increasingly we only celebrate when there’s a “good reason” to, and in doing so we forget that traditions, ceremonies and celebrations are a significant part of human connection and important for our overall wellbeing and optimistic outlook on life. In the name of progress, our cultures have stopped rejoicing over everyday occurrences like sunrises and important seasonal events like harvest time. So while we’ve become very good at planting the seeds these days, we need to start reaping the crops again.
Research on positive psychology by Hasassah Littman-Ovadia, has shown that when we are able to look forward to something worth celebrating, no matter how big or small, we really do feel more optimistic. The things to look forward to and celebrate could be anything: a promotion at work; cooking a successful meal for a loved one; a beautiful, sunny day after a week of rain; or good news from a family member.
Any celebration, whether it be big or small, or important to others or not, is really about taking a step back and noticing the good things in your life. It can also be a reminder of our talents and abilities, skills and persistence. Drawing on those things can motivate us to keep working toward our goals. According to social psychology researcher Fred Bryant, when we stop to savour the good stuff, we buffer ourselves against the bad and build resilience.
A study on how gratitude impacts our wellbeing was conducted by Dr. Robert A. Emmons, the founding editor of the Journal of Positive Psychology. The study split several hundred people into three different groups, all of whom were instructed to keep daily journals. One of the groups was required to write about the day without labelling the events ‘good’ or ‘bad’, another wrote about negative things that had happened, and the final group was told to make a daily list of things they felt grateful for.
The gratitude journal group had significantly higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, optimism and energy. They also experienced less depression and stress, were more likely to help others, exercised more consistently and made greater progress toward achieving personal goals.
“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.” – Thornton Wilder
We often move from one thing to the next without really giving the time to transition onto the next thing, let alone celebrate our achievements.