Being alone on your birthday isn’t just lonely, it’s also a little embarrassing. I spent my 34th at a neighborhood pub, sitting at the bar, feeling sorry for myself and wondering how to be happy alone. After a glass of wine, I admitted it was my birthday to the bartender and the guy sitting a couple stools down…and they not only bought me drinks and appetizers, they sang “Happy Birthday.” Several times.
That evening turned out to be one of my happiest birthdays! A few more people sat at the bar that night — they were friendly, talkative, and happy to share memories of how they spent their previous birthdays. They even talked about their saddest, most difficult and loneliest birthdays. Just listening to their stories made me feel less alone. I started the evening wondering how to be happy alone on my birthday, and walked home surprised by the joy and comfort of being with strangers.
Even if you’re a happy introvert who loves to be alone and doesn’t make a big deal out of birthdays (like me), you still need companionship sometimes. Your birthday is one of those times. We don’t have many special days in the year, days earmarked just for us, days on which people’s faces light up when you say it’s your birthday, days you get free coffee at Starbucks and free dessert at Red Robin.
But the fact that it’s your special day doesn’t automatically make you happy, does it? Especially if you’re alone on your birthday. Don’t despair, for I have good news! I found an article called “10 Ways to Get Happier” in an old Best Health magazine. Some of the tips are a little corny (set personal goals and go after them) but others are super smart! Here are the good ones, with my own special little twist.
7 Tips for Being Happy Alone on Your Birthday
I was inspired to write this article by a reader’s comment on 17 Meaningful Ways to Celebrate Your 40th Birthday. Her husband recently died — can you imagine celebrating your 40th birthday as a widow? Talk about struggling to find happiness when you’re alone on your birthday!
1. Don’t try too hard to be happy
“Why do we sometimes feel so disappointed at our own birthday party?” asked journalist Lesley Young in her article on getting happier. “Research shows that putting too much stock in the pursuit of happiness for its own sake can backfire. The trouble is the expectation that, for example, the party itself will make us happy; that leads to too much focus on the end point versus simply engaging in the activities that make us happy—in this case, socializing with friends and family in a pleasant atmosphere.”
Your expectations affect how happy you are, whether or not you’re alone on your birthday. If you plan a huge celebration, invite all your friends and expect your birthday to make you happy, you’ll wind up feeling more alone than if you stayed home and watched Netflix. You’re trying too hard to be happy. Instead of fighting your feelings of loneliness and sadness because you’re spending your birthday alone, simply accept this day for what it is. Allow yourself to feel how you feel.
2. Do something different
The first time I ever went to a pub alone was on my birthday, and it turned out way better than I expected. I didn’t expect anything, in fact! I thought I’d have a glass of wine, watch all the happy people in the bar, and go home feeling just as lonely as when I arrived. I had no idea that I was learning how to be happy alone on my birthday. I had no idea that telling strangers I felt lonely and sad would actually turn into one of my favorite birthday memories. And I certainly had no idea I’d be given drinks and appetizers as birthday gifts.
No matter what you choose to do on your birthday, don’t expect anything. Maybe you’ll try a zumba or yoga class, or check out the new coffee shop or restaurant. Maybe you’ll explore a different neighborhood, or visit the zoo or aquarium or reptile farm. Going somewhere alone on your birthday isn’t something to be embarrassed about or ashamed of. Rather, it’s an adventure! The secret for being happy on your birthday — whether you’re alone or surrounded by family and friends — is to be open to anything.
3. Forget retail therapy — even though it’s your birthday
Last week I wrote What to Buy Your Wife on Her 50th Birthday; I thought it’d be an agonizing article to research because I hate shopping. But writing that blog post actually made me happy! I imagined I was a husband who just wants to make his wife happy on her birthday. Researching and compiling a list of birthday gifts for someone else may not seem like a good way to get happier, but it made me feel great. I didn’t have to spend money buying things; I just enjoyed the feeling of giving someone birthday gifts that would make her happy. And I was alone the whole time.
When you’re spending your birthday alone, don’t fall into the retail therapy trap. Buying yourself gifts won’t make you happy. “Material possessions cannot deliver on their promise to make us happy,” says researcher and professor of marketing James Roberts. “As human beings, it’s how we feel about ourselves, our relationships with others and our involvement in the larger community that brings happiness and contentment.” He adds that a love of material possessions can in fact undermine how we feel about ourselves. We run the risk of buying things we think will make us happy — and we are happy for a few minutes, hours, or days. Then we settle back into our normal mood…and we need another hit of retail therapy. It doesn’t work.
4. Don’t try to get over the bad
Unhappy people focus on trying not to think about negative things. Unhappy people focus trying to get over negative things, learning how to be happy when they’re alone, or overcoming losses and pain. If you try to be happy because you feel lonely on your birthday, you’ll fail because you’re focusing on the wrong thing. Not only will you be disappointed, you’ll feel less happy and more alone.
Happy people, on the other hand, tend to focus on things that make them happy. Here’s an example from my birthday experience: when I celebrate alone again, I’ll remember the birthday I spent in the neighborhood pub. I walked in feeling alone, insecure and embarrassed — and yet it turned out to be a very happy birthday. I’ll never be able to replicate that experience but I feel good when I remember it. I also learned that even the loneliest birthdays can turn out great. Your turn: instead of focusing on how lonely you feel, or even on how to be happy when you’re alone on your birthday, recall times you were happily surprised at an unexpected turn of events. Then, go and have an adventure on your birthday! Come back here and tell me about it.
5. Remind yourself that you won’t always be alone and it won’t always be your birthday
You may not just be alone on your birthday, you may be a grieving widow or a divorced mother of five. Maybe you’re in the hospital, or in prison, or stuck at work. Maybe you’re sitting at the beside of a loved one in hospice or you just got back from putting your dog to sleep at the vet. I’d just moved to Vancouver when I was alone on my 35th birthday. I knew a few people, but nobody I actually wanted to spend time with. That’s when I learned not only how to be happy alone, but also that this too will pass.
It also helps to pay attention to what makes you feel worse about yourself and your life. For example, I feel lonely and left out when I surf Facebook. All the happy people, doing all those happy things and having happy families — not to mention happy birthdays! I always feel more alone after a stint on Facebook. What makes you feel better about yourself, your life, your future? Get more of that in your life.
6. Never underestimate your ability to bounce back
“We find our way to happiness even when things aren’t working out the way we want,” writes Lesley Young in “10 Ways to Get Happier.” “Research shows that people tend to get over negative events much faster than they expect. The theory is that we have an emotional immune system—much like our physiological one—that fends off negative emotions.”
How do you boost your emotional immune system? By trying different things and finding what works for you! And the timing is perfect: learning how to be happy when you’re alone is the best birthday gift you’ll ever get. If you can learn how to happily navigate a special day when it’s not exactly what you hoped for, you can enjoy life almost anytime. Know that you will bounce back from this birthday quicker than you think…and you might even be happier than ever.
7. Know that you matter more than you realize
In What to Remember When You Feel Like No One Cares I wrote about the moment I realized that I matter more than I realize. I was at a friend’s for dinner; I told her that I want to move to a new city. Vancouver is beautiful, but it’s crowded and expensive and busy. I want to live more simply and quietly. My friend said I’d be missed by many people. I waved her away, saying that I actually haven’t connected with many people at all. She disagreed, saying I don’t know how much I’ll be missed by my friends and community.
It’s the same for you: you matter more than you know. Right now you feel lonely because it’s your birthday and you’re alone. But you matter more than you realize! I wrote this article for you. It wasn’t an accident that you found my blog, or that you’re feeling alone and unhappy on your birthday. You’re here — not just on my blog, but on earth — because God put you here. He created you, loves you, and has a purpose for your life.
Instead of dwelling on how to be happy when you’re alone on your birthday, use this time to think about where your life is going. Who are you becoming, where are you going? Are you living in heaven or hell? Perhaps your birthday gift is the chance to stop and take stock of your life. Look up and meet God’s gaze. He’s been here the whole time, waiting for you.
One last thing…
Remember how I said this blog post included a few tips from “10 Ways to Get Happier” in an old Best Health magazine? Well, the author of the article was called Lesley Young…and she died earlier this year. She was 47 years old.
Lesley Young (August 23 ,1972- April 12, 2019) left us on April 12, after a long and difficult battle with her illness over the last 18 months. During this time, she never complained or wanted to burden anyone. She was an accomplished writer and journalist, and reported and wrote for various magazines, publications, and papers. She won numerous awards for her work. During the last two years, Lesley worked with, and wrote extensively for the news and media relations department at the University of Alberta. She loved to travel and enjoyed seeing many countries and places around the world, especially during this last year. She leaves to mourn her, her loving parents, Kathleen and Barry, her much loved brother Scott, aunt Louise, nieces Sarah, Emily and Allison, nephew Max as well as her significant other, Darin. Lesley will be missed by all who knew and loved her. The family expresses their gratitude to Dr. Huot, Dr. Amigo and the caring staff at the Grey Nuns-Palliative unit. It was Lesley’s wish to have a small celebration of her life and that has taken place. If desired, donations in Lesley’s name may be made to the Canadian Cancer Society.
Lesley, your words are echoing in our hearts, minds, and souls. May you rest in peace.
In peace and passion,