After, oh, roughly the age of 21, birthdays get a little less exciting for a lot of people. Instead of counting down to your birthday, you might find it sneaking up on you, leaving you no time to plan any kind of celebration. Or maybe as an adult, you’re stuck working on your birthday and don’t feel up to making a whole day of it—or even an evening. In this global age, perhaps you’re living far away from most of your loved ones or a recent transplant to a new city without a large local social network. Some of us are watching our wallets and want to celebrate our big day but don’t want to shell out major dough to do so (or expect our loved ones to in order to celebrate with us). And I’ve heard many people say they “just don’t see any reason” to celebrate their birthday in even the smallest way.
For these reasons and others, it can be tempting to ignore our birthdays as we get older, but it’s the last thing you should do. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate affair, but your birthday is a special day because it’s a day that’s for you. For some people, neglecting their birthday is a subliminal message that they’re undeserving of any fuss—which couldn’t be farther from the truth! By acknowledging your birthday in whatever way makes you most comfortable, you are accepting that you are worth celebrating.
A birthday is also the perfect time for self-reflection. Looking back on the last year, five years, or twenty can give you some perspective and remind you how much you’ve accomplished. Sure, you might also be reminded of the losses you’ve endured over the years, but they’ve all contributed to your experiences to make you uniquely you—which is exactly who you need to be right now! Isn’t that amazing?
In this world, what does it hurt to find reasons to celebrate, to let down our hair and play, to experience joy, even if just for an hour or two? By celebrating your own birthday (and inviting others to join you if you’re so inclined), you are celebrating the experience of life. You are honoring the passage of time and your powerlessness over it. You are acknowledging the beauty and perspective that our own mortality awards us. Yet you are also focusing on the present moment, the now, and appreciating your life for what it is—because it’s exactly what you need.
So now that I’ve convinced you to mark the day of your birth with some kind of celebration, what’re you to do if you don’t want a traditional party or birthday dinner? Think outside the box: There are many activities that you can do to acknowledge the day in whatever way is comfortable for you. Whether you’re looking for a birthday activity you can do alone or with a group, one that’s free or costs a few bucks, one that’s an all-day affair or one that you can do in five minutes, one that requires you to leave the house or one that you can do without putting pants on…well, we’re pretty sure you’ll find it here. Read through this list, mix and match, and most importantly, celebrate the amazing gift to the universe that you are!
Alternative Ways To Celebrate Your Birthday
1. Perform random acts of kindness. Choose a number (like your age) and commit to performing that many random acts of kindness throughout the day. You can work this into your schedule if you’re at work or school for the day, or you can think bigger and make an entire day out of it. Likewise, you can stick to free acts of kindness if you’re working with a budget, or consider buying someone a meal or donating money if you’re feeling flush. You can even plan up (or save up some money) to do some major act of kindness on your birthday. This is a great one to do with kids and can even become a family tradition.
2. Clean up litter at a beach, park, or roadside. This doesn’t have to be a fancy affair—just go for a walk somewhere where litter collects, bring a garbage bag or two, and fill’er up as you go. (You might want to bring some gloves too.) If you want to invite some friends to join you, all the better. But even if you just put on some good music and do it yourself, you’ll appreciate knowing you spent your birthday giving back to the Earth that has given you so much.
3. Take someone else out for a meal. Yeah, it’s traditional to be taken out for dinner on your birthday, but change things up. Invite someone out to eat who might not otherwise be able to enjoy a dinner out with you (make it clear ahead of time it’s your treat) or else pick up the tab for someone who’s not expecting it. You get to enjoy their company (and if you received any birthday money, you get to share it!).
4. Volunteer at a soup kitchen or shelter. You might need to coordinate this one ahead of time, but find a local place to volunteer, and spend a few hours on your birthday helping others. Especially if you’re not a regular volunteer, giving back some time on your birthday can make it an extra special one.
5. Find your crystal. Go to a place that sells crystals and healing stones or read about them online. Find one that speaks to you in this moment. Cleanse and program it. Start spending time with it and see where it takes you this year.
6. Donate money. Choose a specific amount (perhaps a dollar for every year you’ve been alive?) and donate it. You can give it all to one charity, divide it out to a few, or practice a few random acts of kindness around town.
7. Make your own all-natural bath & beauty products. By using eco-friendly ingredients, you make sure to protect the planet and keep your skin free of toxic ingredients. After you’ve made some sustainable beauty delights, pamper yourself with a spa day at home. And if you have extra product leftover, you can package it and gift it to friends—they’ll love it!
8. Journal. If you’re not into writing, spend 15 minutes doing a bullet journal of your life story so far (hit the high points!), or focus on what you want to remember about the past year. Put it in a safe space where you can refer to it later. (If you handwrote it, consider taking a picture of it with your phone and emailing it to yourself for future reference.) If you’re already a writer, start a more significant journal or work on your memoir/autobiography. Think about the story you tell yourself about your Self. Is it the story you want to have?
9. Get back in touch with your creative side. If you used to draw, or write, or paint, or make music, or sew, or garden, or anything…get back to it! No excuses. Don’t worry about being good enough or freak out about the finished product. Your birthday gift to yourself is a judgment-free zone to dive back into something that once brought you joy.
10. Make food for loved ones. If you’re a baker, bake cookies and share them. If you make a mean soup, whip up a huge batch, can it, and share it. Imbue the food with love and celebration as you cook it. Have gratitude for all the hands that made the ingredients possible and reflect on the nutritious nature of the foods.
12. Go out and enjoy nature. Use whatever is near you—the beach, a lake, the forest, a park, a river, a botanical garden, a canyon, a desert…find a beautiful expression of nature that you can spend some time in, and go appreciate it.
13. Make a gratitude list. For every year you’ve been alive, write down one thing you’re thankful for. Big or small, it doesn’t matter. Once your list is finished, put it somewhere where you can refer back to it—maybe in your wallet or journal—or take a picture with your phone for future reference. This is another great activity to do with kids on their birthday, and it can become a meaningful tradition.
14. Take a vacation in your hometown. Go do whatever tourists do in your town, no matter how silly you think it sounds. Try to see your hometown with fresh eyes. What do you take for granted about it?
15. Go to a yoga class. Or a tai chi class. Or a jiu jitsu class. Or a belly dancing class. Go do something to celebrate all that your body is capable of. Approach the class with gratitude for your body instead of annoyance that you “need” to work out.
17. Learn a new skill. Want to learn to change your bike tire? Interested in vegan baking? Planning to knit all your holiday gifts? Spend the day learning a new skill, whether that’s by taking a cooking class or watching YouTube videos.
19. Take a road trip. A two-hour drive, a two-day drive—whatever your budget and schedule allows. Just make sure to stop and smell the roses. Do at least one thing unplanned on the road trip.
20. Meditate. If you’re new to meditating, aim for 30 minutes to an hour. If you’re a pro, consider spending a specific number of hours meditating on your birthday, or sign up for a meditation retreat to take your enlightenment to the next level.
21. Go through old pictures. Make a collage (digital or paper, either one) or just spend some time reminiscing. Share your memories with the people in them if you’re lucky enough to be able to do so.
22. Find out your dosha. Take this quiz, and then learn more about what your dosha means for you. For example, what’s the best tea for your dosha? The best foods for your dosha? The best exercise for your dosha? The best yoga for your dosha? Learning more about yourself is a great way to spend your birthday!
23. Do a tech detox. Choose a specific number of hours (or the whole day, or a week!) and put down the smartphone. (Maybe you do an hour for every year of your age.) If you’re able to (i.e., you don’t need it for work), consider also avoiding computers, tv, and all social media for the detox. Reflect on how you feel without it.
24. Bake pet friendly treats for a pup or kitty who would appreciate them. If you don’t know any hungry dogs or cats or don’t trust your culinary skills, see if you can volunteer at a local animal shelter for the day.
25. Make a health appointment. Maybe it’s one you’ve been putting off (a teeth cleaning, perhaps?) or maybe it’s a new modality you’ve been wanting to try (like acupuncture?). Honor your body by taking the time to make that appointment—and then follow through with it when the time comes. (Find a practitioner near you here.)
26. Make your own perfume. Choose whatever aroma you like best—customize it! Then, choose an appropriate name for this special scent. If you’re feeling generous, make extra to share with friends and family. (For a solid perfume, use this recipe, and for one using plant parts, use this recipe.)
27. Try abhyanga. This Ayurvedic oil massage is ultra-relaxing and nourishes your skin deep down, too. Taking a few minutes to rub the yummy-scented oil into your skin can help you slow down and spend some time reflecting.
28. Have a dance party—even if you’re by yourself in your pjs at home. Crank up your favorite tunes and move your body. Wonder at all that this world has done to bring you to this exact moment. Get excited for what else it has in store for you. And know that you’re right where you’re supposed to be.