A rant on why birthdays are overrated

I don't think I need to explain why a birthday gets everyone excited. Everyone knows that already.

Let me directly get to why I think the concept of celebrating birthdays is overrated.

It’s not about you

Typically, birthdays are a celebration of you being born into this world. It is about you. Should it be about you, though?

You barely did anything. Your biological mom did all the heavy lifting (with or without the help of doctors). It is she who had to go through 9+ months of struggle and mood swings and cravings and what not, culminating in a grand event where you are were thrust out by her or taken out by the docs via caesarean. And your dad was there for her and with her all along — providing care and support to the both of you.

So, why is this day about you? If anything, it should be about paying tribute to the sacrifices your parents made.

It’s society’s definition of ‘Time’

Why is it that the celebration lasts for 24 hours — birthday? Why don't we celebrate birth-hour or birth-week?

Why is it that we attach significance to the completion of a year? Why don’t we celebrate the event of our birth once every 2 years or once every decade or once every month or once every week even? Why not once every day? Why not all day, everyday?!

Time, in this context, is social construct. Society has attached significance to a year so we celebrate birthdays every year. One day, if society decides to make two rotations of earth around the sun to be the norm, then you would be celebrating your birthday every two years instead of one. So when you celebrate your birthday every year, it is you conforming to society’s definition of time and playing by its rules. I am not sure if there is anything special about that.

It’s society’s definition of ‘Birth’

When you are born, you are already 9 months old. Your actual time of origin is 9 months before your birthday. Your heart started beating when you were a 7 week old fetus. Your brain started developing when you were 3 weeks old.

Yet, we count our time on this planet (age) only from the time our umbilical cords are cut. Why? Because, we as a society have agreed to define birthday to be the day that you started living as a physically separate being.

Again, your birthday is the outcome of a public consensus.

It’s evolution

You might say ‘well, it was during my birthday that I first started breathing so that must have some significance, right?’.

Not really. You taking your first breath as an independent organism is a result of evolution. You are hard-wired to do that. You did not consciously do it, you just did it. It is simply a biological process.

It’s probability

You might say ‘Sure, it’s evolution. But not every kid takes that first breath. I was lucky enough to do that and not die. Isn’t that something to celebrate?’

Let’s do some really quick math. (These are very crude figures. But they help put things into perspective.)

2.4 million infants die during their first 28 days¹. There are around 134 million births every year². So the probability of you dying during your birth is 0.018(approx).

Let us compare that to your chances of dying from cancer. It is 0.21 if you are a male and 0.18 if you are a female³. You are 10X more likely to die due to cancer.

In such a case, a person not getting hit by cancer calls for celebration too, right? In fact, the celebration should be 10X as intense as a birthday celebration. But, who throws a party for not getting cancer? No one.

From road accidents and cancer to earth getting hit by a meteor or aliens colonizing earth, there is always an axe hanging above your (our) neck. To live is to escape death on a daily basis. There is nothing miraculous about escaping it when you were exiting your mom’s womb.

It’s a tool

I’m not advocating for abolishing the concept of birthdays. I am simply trying to see them for what they are.

It is an extremely useful tool that helps you take a break from your daily routine and spend time with your friends and family. It gives you an excuse to indulge in a cheat meal and go on a shopping spree. It gives others a reason to throw you a surprise and give you a gift.

It helps us maintain our social relationships. Unequivocally, the concept of birthday has its place in our society.

Celebrate your birth instead of your birthdays

On your birthday, you party, you shop, you get gifts and wishes from people you love etc. You are happy about your existence on this planet. But why? Why are you happy about it on just that one day and forget the importance of your existence until your next birthday? Because it is easy.

What is hard is appreciating your time here on earth everyday. Appreciating your existence should be a daily practice, not an yearly celebration. That way you would be celebrating your birth itself instead of celebrating your birthday. (You can celebrate both too.)

How do you do it every day? Well, it is fairly simple — take good care of yourself; if you really wanted to appreciate your time on this planet, you would be doing this already.

Here is a primer on self-care (that you already know):

  • get 8 hours of sleep
  • eat clean
  • engage in a physical activity
  • form and maintain good social relationships (study)
  • take care of your mental health (see a therapist, keep a journal, meditate)
  • have a skin care and body care routine
  • hydrate
  • have a pet (study)
  • watch F.R.I.E.N.D.S re-runs (yes, there is a study done on this too)

However, simple does not mean it is easy. It is really hard to do these on a daily basis (except for watching FRIENDS). It requires consistency & discipline. But did you really think that appreciating the existence of a conscious, complex and dynamic being on this planet was going to be easy?

You get bonus points if you try to improve the lives of others/contribute to society’s progress. This way, others will appreciate your time on this planet too.

If you do achieve success, remember that luck played a significant role and given your good fortune, you should do what you can to increase the luck of others — Veritasium

On a closing note, please don’t use the arguments mentioned above to invalidate someone’s excitement about birthdays. Be nice. If they like cake and gifts, get them those. It’s their birthday!

P(A|B) = [P(A)*P(B|A)]/P(B), all the rest is commentary — Scott Alexander

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