How We Mark Happy, Stressful & Sad Occasions

When Margaret was little, she had an uncle who always held court at holiday time, receiving endless praise from relatives gathered around the table. He was a major philanthropist to many political, cultural and social causes. Having an audience was one way he marked his many accomplishments. 

When most of us succeed at something—a book or an article is published, we lose weight and are healthier and look and feel better, we get into a special program, find a new job, go into remission from cancer, train and finish a marathon, killed it in an audition and got a part, learn a new skill and master it or have success with our startup company—we like to reward ourselves. 

In other words, we like to mark the milestone and acknowledge how important it is. 

Some might do it like Margaret’s uncle. Many we spoke to for this blog like to reward themselves with food, thinking, “I deserve a big chocolate chip cookie from the Levain bakery for completing that article on technology.” Or Barbara will take a walk in her village when she finishes an article or another assignment or stops to read a magazine on her back porch, enjoying the bucolic view. In her sleepaway camp days, the bunk having the neatest cabin and well-made beds, received some kind of treat. 

Are all these rewards a throwback to other times in our childhood when we were given food, praise, a piece of clothing, a trip or anything for very good behavior? Maybe yes, but they became a nice tradition that we liked carrying into adulthood. 

When older, it became common to buy a bottle of champagne or wine or tickets to a play or concert to celebrate a big event such as the birth of a child, grandchild, or promotion, “I deserve this after working so hard on that client’s behalf.” Others might take a trip or take off a day to relax, go to a museum and eat at a favorite restaurant. And some might think, “I got that part in an off-Broadway show. Perhaps, now I’ll treat myself to a plane ticket to Hollywood, Calif, and audition for The Voice. Maybe, I’ll win or make it to the finals.” How fun! 

Barbara has written how she would mark the major milestone of winning a big lottery with monetary gifts to her daughters, grandsons and a few of her closest friends (in need), and then give the rest to worthy causes. She used to mark safe airplane flights with a check to a favorite charity. Since the pandemic, she has rarely flown. 

Others have their methods to either reward themselves for an accomplishment or to make themselves feel better when under stress and times are tough. To mark the anniversary of the death of a loved one, we might be melancholy but celebrate the life that person led. Barbara recently honored the passing of her mother, who would have turned 103 in late October, by sharing on Facebook her mom’s love of ice cream and urging “friends” to go out and indulge. Her own family each had some version of her mom’s favorite ice-cream soda to toast her memory, including her two oldest great-grandsons. 

Some light candles on the anniversary of deaths, (Jewish people call this a Yahrzeit candle), some go to church or temple or the cemetery and talk to the person who died and leave a stone or flowers at the grave. Before Margaret moved to New York City, she would meet her sister-in-law and they’d combine a cemetery visit on the anniversary of her husband’s death with a delicious lunch and always reminisced. Barbara regularly visits her parents’ graves and always talks to them about what’s going on and stops at the gravestones of her parents’ close friends who are buried nearby. 

Here are ways others have marked joyous, stressful or sad times: 

Marilyn. “If I’m stressed because of a problem with my kids or grandkids, I will buy an expensive ticket usually to the ballet. I figure, ‘I deserve it.’ 

“When I have a miserable day such a recent health scare, I went out and bought a pair of Channel shoes. 

“When my husband was ill for two years and I was the caregiver, every day was not a good day. To reward myself for being a trustworthy caregiver, I’d call a friend whom I love and ask, ‘How about coming over and we’ll have a martini.’” That became a routine.”


Jason. “I had to lose weight because of health issues. So, I went on a diet and lost 40 pounds. I decided to reward myself for the effort by buying a Laker’s Kobe Bryant jersey. It was expensive, but I felt like I earned it.” 

Mimi. “If I go to a party and have a wonderful time, I will mark the occasion by taking a photo and remembering a song from the evening. And when I hear that song, it always reminds me of what a good time I had. 

"When someone passes away, what I'll do to remember them is to donate to something in their memory." 

Barbara: “When I accomplish something like writing a really good email, I’ll add a dessert to my dinner.” 

Ginny. “I’m an artist and when I sell one of my pieces, my husband and I will go out to dinner.” 

Karen. “One day, after a tough tutoring session with a challenging child, I felt sorry for myself. As I was walking back to my apartment, I saw a sign in a bakery window that said: Cupcake Happy Hour. I used to be in marketing, so I had to check this out.  Of course, I bought a delicious cupcake. I tend to reward myself with food. 

“When I renovated my house during Covid, I was overwhelmed with choices down to such details as where to place a toilet paper holder—up, down, left, right. So, to reward myself for having to make so many decisions on my own, I splurged on a $800 touchless sink faucet.” 

Susan.  “When I write a chapter, I am in an intense but creative space. So, when I get to the end, I usually feel tired but also relieved that I created something out of nothing. So, I feel a reward is in order. 

"The quick and dirty reward involves something to eat. Other times, I treat myself to a few chapters of an engaging book that I find hard to put down or maybe a movie on tv that I've been looking forward to seeing. In any case, I would select something that feels like a treat. Most likely, it will be chocolate candy or ice cream. ”



  • Audrey Steuer

    I love that Barbara makes a donation after returning from a safe flight. What a thoughtful, wonderful idea!!

  • Susan Berger

    I always love your column! Thanks…and happy and healthy new year!

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published