6 Reasons We Fail at Celebrating (And Why it’s a Modern-Day Epidemic)


Celebration brings out the best in us. Here are six reasons you might struggle with celebrating.

I hardly remember the celebrations of my childhood because, quite frankly, celebration wasn’t a priority.

This is a surprising trend of today’s society. A vast majority of us fail to celebrate.

And what’s worse is, we think we are great at celebrating. We know how to put on the most epic birthday parties for our kids, and make a big deal of our kids’ milestones, but we hardly celebrate ourselves.

Our inability to celebrate is a modern-day epidemic. It not only breeds cynicism, but it increases stress, stifles our potential, and keeps us stuck.

Today, my wife and I make an intentional effort to celebrate both the good and the bad parts of life. We see, from the latest research and even from our religious understanding, that celebration is a foundational activity for joy.

Celebration brings out the best in us.

Do you struggle to celebrate?

Do you tend to not make a big deal of your own birthday?

Do you fail to notice events that call for a celebration at work?

Do you treat milestones at home as if they’re nothing?

If so, you’re potentially feeding a culture of cynicism, at work and at home. You can fight against it with a culture of celebration. But it requires you noticing why you fail at celebrating.

Here are six reasons you might struggle with celebrating.

1. You don’t want to steal other people’s happiness.

Recent research reveals that we apply the zero-sum bias to our celebrating.

The zero-sum bias is when we believe our win is another’s loss. It’s the belief there’s a limited supply of a resource, and if you have it, then someone else doesn’t.

A study done by researcher, Daniel Meegan, found that we only apply zero-sum bias to the allocation of desirable resources. There is no perceived bias when the resource is undesirable.

In short, if a resource is something everyone wants, we believe there’s not enough of it to go around.

The problem with this is, we mistakenly believe that because happiness is something everyone wants, then us being happy someone steals happiness from others.

Have you ever stopped yourself from sharing good news because you think it somehow takes away from their happiness? You believe you have to stoop low in order to meet them instead of sharing your good news with them.

This is a reason why we struggle to celebrate. We don’t want to recognize powerful moments because we think it might take away from others who struggle to celebrate.

The truth is, when we celebrate, we invite others to celebrate with us. And in doing so, we give them more joy.

Withholding joy sucks people dry, but celebrating joy fills people up.

2. You don’t allow yourself to celebrate.

This was the primary reason why I used to struggle with celebration. I was always anxious about losing what I had, so I never stopped to celebrate.

Dr. Brene Brown calls this phenomenon, “foreboding joy.”

It’s when you never allow yourself to truly enjoy something because you fear you might lose it.

We do this to protect ourselves. If we let our guard down and fully enjoy something, then we might experience more pain if we lose it. So we don’t let our joy make us vulnerable like this.

But here’s the thing…

Foreboding joy doesn’t actually protect you from pain. In fact, if you do lose what you’ve neglected to enjoy, you would’ve wished you enjoyed it more when you had it.

When I ran my own business, I was always afraid of losing everything I had worked for, even though I had a stable flow of money and clients. Because of this fear, I never stopped working. I was depriving myself of joy and replacing it with fear.

And then, when I let go of my business, I wished I celebrated my achievements more. I could’ve given myself so much positive energy at the time. But instead, I chose to fuel myself with negative energy, which didn’t get me very far.

Depriving yourself of joy does nothing to help your success or protect you from pain. Stop the cycle of negative emotions by stopping to celebrate.

3. You believe you can’t celebrate until the work is finished.

I’ve heard many workplace horror stories where leaders stop their staff from celebrating things that should be celebrated because the work isn’t finished yet and there’s more to do.

This is a poison in workplace culture. It kills momentum, demotivates teams, and stifles achievement. And it doesn’t just happen in the workplace. It happens at home too.

The reason many of us do this is because they place celebration at the end of work. But the work is never finished. There’s always something more to be achieved. So celebration keeps fleeing into the future.

There’s a biological reason we do this too. Our ancestors couldn’t afford to be happy. If they let down their guard, a wild animal might sneak up and eat them. So they had to always stay vigilant because the work wasn’t finished.

We live in a different society today. No animal is going to eat us. We can stop and celebrate. And it’s also the best thing we can do for our work.

Being happy doesn’t make us lazy. Being happy motivates us to do more.

When we’re happy, our brains our engaged. Our stress levels are lowered, our productivity increases, and we’re more motivated to achieve. Negative emotions don’t do this for us.

If you want to do great work, celebrate the little things along the way. Feed yourself and your team with positive emotions so they can show up to do more great work.

4. You think celebration is not socially acceptable.

Because we breed a culture of cynicism, we like to bond with others in our cynicism. It all of a sudden becomes popular to not make a big deal of celebrations.

Not only this, but when you do celebrate, you don’t invite others to join you because you want to come across as being humble.

Celebration is not as socially acceptable as we think it is. Even though we all want to celebrate, we secretly believe we can’t for fear of alienating ourselves from others.

But here’s the deal: celebrating doesn’t make you less humble. And you don’t have to bond with others over negativity.

People love to join in other’s celebration. When you think it’s not socially acceptable, you deprive others of that joy.

So if you want others to have joy and celebrate, you have to lead the way.

You can’t make a difference without being different. When no one else is celebrating, it’s on you to take up the mantle and celebrate.

5. You’re bored of the repetition.

Every year, you celebrate a birthday. Every year, you celebrate an anniversary. Every year, you celebrate the holidays.

After a while, celebration can become repetitive. And once it becomes repetitive, it becomes boring in our minds.

So our minds downplay the celebration because it means we’re just repeating the same old routine.

When we do the same thing to celebrate, our brains travel down the same neural pathways. But when it veers off these pathways, it creates dopamine, which rewards our brain with great feelings.

Here’s the point: if you’re bored of repetition, do something new with each celebration.

As you do new things, you’ll excite your brain more and enjoy more rewarding celebrations.

You don’t have to do the same thing for every celebration. Mix it up, and finally look forward to celebrations.

6. You’re too primed for the negative.

Finally, you can’t celebrate because you can’t notice when something good happens. You’ve given too much weight to the negative in your life.

This is due to our natural Negativity bias. But even though we all have this evolutionary bias built into us, we can choose to not give too much attention to it. Negative experiences don’t have to weigh so heavy on us.

Recent research reveals that we experience three times as many positive experiences than we do negative. It’s because of the Negativity bias that we pay attention to the negative more.

If we can exercise our power of paying attention to the positive over the negative, then we’ll naturally have more to celebrate.

Celebration is foundational to joy. If you struggle with joy, it’s probably because you struggle to celebrate. As you return to your normal routine, take time to celebrate both the big and the little things. The more you celebrate, the more you open yourself up to joy.

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