5 Reasons Why it’s Important to Commemorate Special Occasions

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“Twinkle lights are the perfect metaphor for joy. Joy is not a constant. It comes to us in moments – often ordinary moments. I believe a joyful life is made up of joyful moments gracefully strung together by trust, gratitude, inspiration, and faith.” – Brene Brown

Since the dawn of civilization, man has given high priority towards the commemoration of special occasions. We can see this in the pagan rituals conducted by our tribal ancestors during initiations, the ancient Egyptians’ celebrations during the annual harvests, the elaborate coronation ceremonies during the Middle Ages, and the gruesome acts of human sacrificial offerings that were made by the Mayans.

 

The list of the number of rites, rituals and celebrations that the people on our planet partake in is almost endless and incredibly diverse. Commemoration rituals can be as simple as treating ourselves to a spa day after accomplishing something challenging at work to a full blown 3 day wedding extravaganza to share the happiness of our blessed union with our loved ones.

 

All around the world, special events and celebrations like weddings are even led up to with great gusto. The market for invitations, save the dates, and other types of celebration reminders are prolific and extremely popular. In fact there is a ubiquitous industry for the celebration of practically all mainstream holidays such as Christmas, Valentine’s Day and New Years Eve.

 

Every culture, nation and tradition has developed its own unique ways of honoring special occasions. Their customs and traditions are a direct product of their cultural background, history, religious beliefs and even the geography of the region they live in. We see this in religious and cultural festivals around the world like the Carnival in Brazil, Chinese New Year, Oktoberfest in Germany and Diwali in India.

 

As eclectic as these practices are, if we take a closer look, we’ll see that there is a common thread of themes that connects each and every one of them. We will see that all of these occasions center on universal human experiences such as love, sadness, joy, reverence, success and sacrifice.

 

No matter which country you visit, you will notice that we all rejoice in the same things, such as a happy relationships, the birth of a child, professional or personal victories and other milestones. Similarly, we all mourn the same things, such as losing a loved one or facing a major setback or disaster.

 

It seems that as a species we are instinctually driven to honour the significant moments in our lives. There are deep underlying needs that drive us to engage in celebrations. As a result, we have found so many wonderful ways to meet these needs and create more meaning in our lives.

 

There are, however, skeptics out there who perceive these celebrations as being fluffy, ostentatious and prodigal. These practical traditionalists view these occasions with an eye of cynicism, preferring to maintain a stance of reticence and living their life in a moderate and simplistic manner.

 

Of course everyone is free to live their life in a manner of their choosing, but they would be missing out on a lot of life’s “goodies” by excluding themselves from participating in gatherings that pay homage to the important milestones in life. Here are some significant benefits that they would miss out on:

 

  1. Cultivating a sense of community:

    One of the most opportune times to bond with our families and friends is during special occasions. Whether we come together to celebrate happy occasions such as a bridal shower or a more sombre occasions such as a funeral, we get a chance to connect with those we love and care about on a deeper and more profound level.

  2. Instilling a sense of meaning and significance to our lives:

    The unique rituals and practices that highlight important milestones such as weddings, graduations or birthdays all serve an important purpose. Participating in the customary rites (cutting cakes and drinking champagne) connects us to the significance of the role that an occasion plays within the grand scheme of our lives. It instills a sense of reverence and appreciation for the gift of life and connects us to a more omnipotent force.

  3. We will create lasting fond memories:

    The human mind tends to recall memories that carry a high emotional charge to them. When we commemorate a special occasion, we are essentially placing a mental bookmark on an experience, thereby making it easier to remember it in the future. The photos, videos and other forms of memorabilia from those occasions serve as triggers that we can use to re-live those pleasant experiences in the future.

  4. It adds fun and excitement to our lives:

    Celebrations can be incredibly fun and provides us with the perfect opportunity to engage in the joys of life such dance, song, food, play and laughter. Who doesn’t look forward to the fun-filled occasions where we can let our hair down and take a break from our mundane existence? The little kid within us still relishes in the excitement of an upcoming celebration and this is an emotion that we deserve to indulge in as adults as well.

  5. We take our place in the circle of life:

    When we commemorate special occasions, we are essentially connecting with our humanity and the commonality that we share with all those who have been long gone before us. We tap into the timelessness of the human spirit when we take the time to pay respect to the important rites of passages that were celebrated by our ancestors in the yesteryears.

 

 

A Challenge Worthy of One’s Gifts

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While I still have to remind myself to take a deep breath and calm down, I think I do pretty well when faced with challenges these days. The other day I managed a work phone call while assisting my 3-year-old on the potty and making sure my 1-year-old didn’t unroll the entire toilet paper roll (half, maybe…). So I think I’m doing pretty well.

But as an adolescent I did not respond well to challenge – I saw it as a test and, thus, as something I could fail. My parents were sensitive to this anxiety and realized early on that indirect requests worked much better than direct challenges. But then school started and, well, you can’t avoid challenge there.

My first catastrophic response to a challenge came in elementary school when we were challenged to use our bodies. My body was not then, nor is it now, up to any kind of challenge involving coordination. I once crashed my bike into our neighbors’ yard because I couldn’t figure out how to pedal backwards (luckily, the neighbor was a doctor, and I got some free medical help). The big game they loved to have us play in elementary school was kickball. I was always among the last 2 or 3 children picked for a team, which didn’t do much for my self-confidence going in.

One day, after I caused our team a few outs, the teachers couldn’t find me when it was time to go back in to class. My response to the challenge had been simply to walk home. I remember my thinking: “Hey, my mom is just a few blocks from here. This game stinks. Why don’t I just go home?” My mother had been putting my sister down for her nap and she heard the front door shut. When she came downstairs she found me relaxing on the couch watching Mr. Rogers. Of course Mom brought me right back to school. And the next week a fence appeared around our playground – no more escape from kickball!

Although I was a pretty smart kid, I didn’t respond well when challenged to use my mind either. Once, after what I perceived to be an embarrassing performance in math class, I tried again to leave the school. Unfortunately, this was after the advent of fences around school yards and I was inside the school and this was my middle school, located about 10 miles from home – all factors working against me getting home for a nice, relaxing afternoon with Mr. Rogers, his comfy sweater and his friend, Henrietta Pussycat. But I did try to escape, resulting in the principal having to physically restrain me and an (I still claim inadvertent) kick in the principal’s shin (a few days’ suspension for that one).

Thanks to my parents, my teachers and patient administrators (like the one with the bruised shin), I made it through secondary school and into college. I learned how to manage my emotions and deal with academic and (minor) physical challenges. But it wasn’t until college that my school institution challenged me to use my gifts for personal connection. The Tucker Foundation (the college’s volunteer organization) challenged me to direct and further develop the Adopt-A-Grandparent program, pairing college students with elderly men and women who needed help and community. Phi Tau, my co-ed fraternity, challenged me to work with my peers to create a fair and comfortable community. And my supervisor at the Beth Israel Hospital in Boston challenged me not only to interpret for the hospital’s Russian patients, but to make them feel part of our community.

What I responded to as a young person, and continue to respond to now, is a challenge to create community. And this is what we are challenging you and your classes to do: to use your individual gifts and talents to create community, however you define it: you classroom, your school, your neighborhood, your city, your country, or your world. We have created a 7-step project (to go with the 7 chapters of the Handbook) that culminates in the germination of a plan, a plan for your students to bring more happiness to their community using their gifts. This challenge to community can be found in chapter 8 of the Facilitators’ Guide (let me know if you still haven’t received one – I’ll send you one via e-mail ASAP), but I’ve reprinted (sadly devoid of the lovely orange background — too technologically complex for me!) below:

A CHALLENGE

I. Ask students to interview a community member using the “Exploring in My Community” activity on p. 14. Share your results as a class and try to find commonalities. What have you learned about your community that you didn’t know before?

II. After reflecting on “My Defining Moments…” on p. 35, find people in your community who have suffered and struggled and ask them to share their defining moments with the class.

III. Have students reflect on “Ideas about My Gift” on p. 67. Then have everyone share their greatest gifts with the class (it can be anonymous) and compile a list. Ask students to show the list to 3 community members and interview them about how they feel these gifts might relieve suffering in the community.

IV. After learning about active listening (pp. 102-3), explore resources for those suffering in the community (counseling, state resources, etc.). Do those resources provide true listening? How do they work to relieve suffering? Is there anything missing?

V. After writing or talking about “Reflecting on Compassion” on p. 113 and summarizing what you have found out about the community, begin to brainstorm about how compassion in action could be applied in your community.

VI. After reading about “Interdependence…With Others!” on p. 145, guide your students in tracking the ways people suffering in your community are interdependent, looking at family, business, government, schools, media, crime, etc.

VII. After reading about the young social entrepreneurs on pp. 167-168, use all the information you have gathered to create your own social entrepreneurship, either as a class or individually.

And there will be an incentive (beyond the rewards of community building). The class that comes up with the most amazing social entrepreneurship (as judged by our expert staff at Project Happiness headquarters) will receive a prize to be announced in next week’s blog. So, stay tuned

And I still think Mr. Rogers’ words are some of the best advice to someone panicked by challenge: “I like you just the way you are.” We all have gifts and struggles and we are all truly good, just the way we are.