The Healing Power of Celebration
Nudge your nervous system out of the stress habit through the act of celebration.
I have a lot to celebrate this summer. I wrote a book, yes—and I am very proud of it. But that’s not the only thing I’m celebrating. I’m also celebrating that I can eat at restaurants again after a health issue dramatically restricted my diet. I’m celebrating recovering from a heartbreak over the holidays last year. I’m celebrating that my business is doing well enough that I can take a few summer weekends off. Hell, considering the news these days, I’m celebrating the fact that I got out of bed this morning.
As human beings, we’re not exactly wired to celebrate. We tend to focus more on what goes wrong in our lives—the struggles, the fears, the challenges ahead. This makes sense, from a survival perspective: it’s smarter for our brains to pay attention to negative information in order to keep ourselves safe than to focus on nice things that have nothing to do with our survival. It also means, however, that we can end up stuck in a cycle of constant unnecessary stress.
One of the ways to nudge our nervous systems out of the stress habit is through the act of celebration. There are so many ways to celebrate. We can throw a party, sure, but the essence of the practice simply means acknowledging and honoring a win. It might look like telling a friend, toasting with family, making a special meal, or simply closing our eyes for a moment, taking a deep breath, and rejoicing in the fact that we made it to Friday. When we take the time out to celebrate mindfully, we are essentially telling our nervous systems to pay attention to our successes, our strengths, our capacities, and our resilience. We are clarifying the positive qualities inside ourselves that help keep propelling us forward in our lives.
The act of celebration is also a strong signal to our nervous systems that we are safe; we don’t generally tend to celebrate when we’re feeling unsafe. And when we’ve been through something tough or we’ve just been stressed out for a very long time, we’re essentially in the habit of fear. We can tell ourselves we’re safe all day, but our bodies simply don’t believe us.
What our bodies can believe, however, is music and dancing, the pop of a champagne cork, a long hug with someone we care about, even that simple deep breath. These conscious rituals help to teach our bodies that life is, actually, good right now. Life isn’t always that way, of course, so better to enjoy it while we can.
Life is tough, and many of us fear even noticing how far we’ve come because if we let ourselves acknowledge it, it might be taken away. Or we refuse to slow down enough to appreciate our success because we don’t want to become complacent. In my experience, however, seeing the best in people tends to help their best come out. When we are secure in our skills and resilience, we tend to find those things more easily when we are under stress. We can push farther and take more risks when we can look back at how far we’ve come and the skills we already have cultivated in our lives. Moving through life from a strength perspective can help us go way farther in our lives than when we are acting through fear.
So this summer, I am celebrating the big things and the small things. I am slowing down enough to let myself have what I already have. I know that things change quickly and the sweet moments of my life will pass in the blink of an eye. When I pause to celebrate the sweetness, at least I know I tasted it while it lasted.