Why Do We Celebrate, and is it Helpful?

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By the time you read this, the Eagles victory celebrations will be completed and most people will have returned to their daily lives.

Some people will be preparing to celebrate the next holiday or planning a special occasion. We may be happy that the holiday season and New Year’s Eve celebrations are in the past.

Are there reasons why people of different ages, socioeconomic backgrounds, cultures, races and sexes come together to celebrate certain happenings? This is a question that may be overlooked and not usually discussed or studied.

In today’s world of constant political debate, fear of nuclear aggression, news about sexual harassment, pay inequality and many forms of negative communication, celebrations simply bring people together.

For a brief moment, people don’t think about friends or family members that they no longer talk to due to differences of political affiliations, or argue about conflicting points of view. Holidays and special events bring people together. This can be described as a brief moment of peace and togetherness or a public “kumbaya.”

Special times may be celebrated by an occurrence like watching a ball drop to commemorate the New Year. Sports fans plan celebrations around a scheduled event like the Super Bowl. Some holidays are enjoyed by eating special foods, decorating, attending religious services and spending time with family and friends. Celebrations are a way to bring people together around a common cause.

Celebrations are also a time to ignore pressing issues in the news. It seems that individuals take a hiatus from issues that dominate their lives while giving their minds a break. You could compare these breaks from thinking to what is often achieved during meditation or yoga. It is a moment to clear one’s mind and focus on positive thoughts while escaping problems that occupy our minds.

Think back about the times that you received a star or smiley face from a teacher when you were in school. These brief moments of celebration helped boost your self-esteem and overall well-being. Wouldn’t it be nice if you still received these moments of thanks and positive reinforcement?

According to social psychology researcher Fred Bryant, when we stop to savor the good stuff, we buffer ourselves against the bad and build resilience — and even mini celebrations can pump up the positive emotions that make it easier to manage the daily challenges that cause major stress.

As adults we may have times when a colleague, boss, spouse or family member tells us that you did a good job, listened to our problems or gave us sound advice. These are moments in our life, no matter how big or small, that are a form of celebration. These reminders help us move forward in life, especially during challenging times.

How can we retain the feelings we experience during the planning and cheering for sports teams, or the distractions and moments of anticipation that we experience when planning or celebrating holidays or special occasions? Here are a few suggestions.

  1. Use mindfulness practices that encourage us to focus on our successes — think about a favorite place or look around at the beauty of nature.
  2. Celebrate daily life by eating a special food, listening to a favorite song, communicating with a friend, taking a bubble bath or having a cup of tea.
  3. Plan a celebration or special event by inviting a friend to share a special meal, plan a date night with a spouse, schedule a time to watch your favorite movie, listen to your favorite singer or spend time with a grandchild or family member.
  4. Think about occasions that you don’t celebrate and find ways to incorporate special activities into your life. Celebrations don’t have to involve extensive planning or large expenditures. Sometimes special times like celebrating the weekend or the first day of winter or spring may cause less stress and be more enjoyable.

Since life has many challenging times or days that are not exciting, find ways to make moments special. Celebrations — no matter if they are cheering for your city or local school’s sports team, planning and celebrating holidays and special occasions, or simply thanking a friend — are an important part of life.

Stop for a minute this week and plan a special celebration or way to make your daily routine more enjoyable. This will make your life more meaningful and joyous. Why not give someone a smiley face or simply say “thank you.” You may be surprised how this simple act will make someone feel special and appreciated. 

Marcy Shoemaker, Psy.D., is a staff psychologist at Abramson Center.

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