Big Birthday Bliss or Blues: It Depends on the Person

We all have our own thoughts about how we want to celebrate our birthdays and what we expect from others, even if we don’t voice our hopes out loud. This is especially true when it comes to those big milestones--where the number ends in an “O” or “5.”  These can be either a delightful or a dizzying carousel ride.

For some it’s a time they want to shine the spotlight on themselves and get everyone they know well to make a fuss over them. Barbara’s almost 5-year-old grandson couldn't wait to turn 5. “It’s a very special number,” he told her recently. What he wants most is everyone to come to his party. Sorry, friends, it’s really just for kids.

What does a big birthday mean for us adults? For some a birthday party resonates and for others, they are content receiving a beautiful card with a touching or funny sentiment. For special friends and family, an invite to lunch or dinner and a special gift or meaningful contribution to a cause they like to honor, is enough.

How do we really feel inside about the age we are turning, especially as we get older and the number of birthdays is shrinking? We’ve found that one key to a happy birthday is admitting to ourselves that we’re another year older and sharing with our loved ones our expectations about it, so we’re not disappointed or blindsided. How would you like to celebrate…or not? “Nobody can read your mind,” Barbara’s beau always says about such personal yearnings. “Tell me what you want me to do.” Yes, it takes away some of the surprise but not everyone is good at figuring out such things.

It’s important to try to walk in the birthday boy or girl’s shoes to make their special day—especially those very big ones—particularly happy, though it’s up to ourselves who are turning a certain age to find our own bit of happiness. 

Here’s what we’ve found is the best way to celebrate with those closest to us.

Margaret doesn’t like to be the center of attention and for her most recent big birthday, two years ago, she was delighted when her three siblings and three children gathered in her city for a very special dinner at a restaurant that had been given rave reviews. Her boyfriend at the time also hosted a cocktail party, which she was less thrilled about--too much attention, she said. And then there was a gals’ dinner and more lunches. After a month, she was happy to be done with everything but still have all the chocolates not yet eaten in her freezer and a stack of books she enjoys. Everyone knew just what to get her—she requested that people make donations to one of three charities--and some like Barbara tried to get out of the usual gift list and go for something more razzle-dazzle with a bit of bling.

Barbara likes a small fuss to be made, part of which she knows is due to her winter birthday, which often made celebrating tough. Parties when young were sometimes cancelled or postponed due to bad weather. And the one party she really wanted—a 50th with friends gathered from her various cities--didn’t come to be because when she asked her former husband to organize it, he said he didn’t know how. Her daughters offered to help. However, truth be told, her then husband was already emotionally out of the marriage, a year before he delivered the devastating news.

When the next decade rolled around, and her daughters and mother hosted a wonderful dinner in her native New York, she was excited to welcome a new decade with the return of her maiden name and plans to relocate back to the Big Apple. Most of all, she keeps aging in perspective as she is acutely aware of those near and dear to her who aren’t getting all these extra years, including Margaret’s dear late husband. The celebration of her birthdays now rests on the fact that her family and closest friends want to make it special to help her continue to create new sweet memories.

Different birthday strokes for different folks. One of Barbara’s dearest friends, and certainly her longest-term one, has always had a very different reaction to aging. She won’t divulge her age to those who don’t know her from childhood and she greatly fears a higher number each year. Yet, she doesn’t want to be alone and wants her closest pals to indulge her by making themselves available. So, this year there already was a museum visit and tea and cake scheduled on the real date. There will be a special lunch and theater in the evening with another good friend from their childhood. And we certainly will honor her privacy and not share the magic number with anyone.

Another friend of Barbara’s is eager to share her big birthdays with many others, and for her 60th hosted a delightful dinner where everyone wore name tags and went around the table sharing when and how they met the birthday host. She plans to do it again in 2019 to toast and welcome the next decade.

And yet one more friend likes to mark her special birthdays with a trip. She and her husband recently took off for Paris. She also had a three-generation family dinner and lots of lunches with friends.

The takeaway from all this is simple. Pay heed to each birthday celebrant’s wishes. Ask them how they feel about the impending day; ask if they’d like to be taken out to lunch or dinner or gifted with something from a store or through a contribution or membership. Don’t make assumptions that they want to do what you do.

Everyone is different and if you can’t have your specific celebration delivered to you like a treasured gift on your one special day each year, when can you? 





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