“We’re a family that celebrates,” my son once said during one of our many celebratory dinners for who-knows-what occasion.
“We sure are,” I said, as the three of us clinked our glasses together, the way we always do in a restaurant.
I have always been someone who loves to go all out for birthdays and holidays. Not just the big ones, but the “Hallmark holidays,” too. Because I’ve never understood why you would roll your eyes at a chance to break up the monotony of life. At least where I live, in Eastern Pennsylvania, February is filled with 28 cold, often dreary days. If I can turn one of those days into an explosion of LOVE, I see no reason not to.
That’s how my dining room looks every year on Valentine’s Day. It’s a similar scene on St. Patrick’s Day and Easter. Don’t even get me started on Halloween. And birthday decorations take over the whole house, starting with streamers hanging from the bedroom doorway and balloons down the hallway.
But it’s not just holidays we celebrate. We go out for ice cream to celebrate soccer wins (or, more often, soccer losses, because the kids always try so hard and effort deserves ice cream, too). We go out for a special breakfast when Ryan earns a new karate belt or we order pizza when my husband or I accomplish a career goal.
We celebrate the first day of school and the last day of school. We celebrate good-weather days by eating our hamburgers outside at the patio table and bad-weather days with picnics on the living room floor. I actively look for reasons to make a day just slightly more special than the average.
I’ve simply been doing it to battle against monotony, but former cognitive psychologist and writer Mary Widdicks says in the Washington Post that I might actually be helping to train my son’s brain to balance out a natural predisposition toward negativity.
Research has found that humans experience and recall negative emotions with a magnitude of about five times that of positive emotions.
This means for every negative experience, we’d need five positive ones to balance out the feelings. There are also theories that suggest that negative emotions are managed by a different hemisphere of the brain than positive emotions, which may lead to people over-analysing negative experiences.
It isn’t unusual for some of our earliest or more detailed childhood memories to be associated with negative feelings. In my own earliest childhood memory, a preschool teacher criticised my colouring of a frog picture. She could still see some white space within all the green crayon, so she sent me back to my seat to do better. I still remember how embarrassed I felt on that walk back to my table; I’d been so sure she was going to tell me I’d done a good job.
The trick to combatting the negativity is to help our kids form stronger associations with positive feelings while they’re young, Widdicks says in The Post. And we do that by modelling appreciation for the little successes and joyful moments—and celebrating them.
They are primed to learn about the world and are actively forming patterns as they develop into adolescence and trim down those neural connections. Wouldn’t it be great if, as adults, we didn’t have to remind ourselves to look for the small joys in life? If it were just second nature?
The practice of celebrating and commemorating the times when nothing goes wrong is a gift we can give to our children, and it can increase their overall happiness throughout their lives.
So, go celebrate something. Celebrate the good report card with your kid’s favourite dinner. Celebrate the first big snowfall of the year with giant mugs of hot cocoa. Celebrate the fact that it’s Tuesday with a dance party in your living room. Your kids’ brains will thank you later.