Last fall, my friend Amber Rae had a birthday party at her beautiful DUMBO Loft. They call it Wonderland for a reason—it's full of instruments, plants, swings, and on this occasion, a gaggle of her amazing friends.
We ate food, tasted wine, and danced around for an hour, and then the big moment came. Her fiancé, Farhad, brings out a cake and invites her to make a wish.
Farhad had approached me earlier and asked me to say something when we joined the group, but I noticed something that made me speak up before she had an opportunity to blow out her candles.
Something felt wrong.
Here was Amber, an amazing writer with a book deal in the works and so many dreams to be manifested, and we were about to have her share her grandest wish to herself, silently…because, as we all know, it won’t come true if she shares it with anyone.
Think about that for a second. How backward is that?
If we want our wishes to come true, we need to tell people—especially those who have our backs.
One of the rarest forms of currency today is attention. There are only a few moments each year (if we’re lucky) that our entire community of friends will be around us and pointing their undivided attention our way.
Your birthday is a time when your friends are gathering with the intention of lifting you up. The traditional folklore of the birthday wish gets in the way of letting them do what they are there to do.
The good news? It's easy to fix.
Next time you're at a birthday dinner or party for one of your friends, take the lead before the candles are blown out and invite the birthday girl/boy to share their dream with the entire group.
"What is your wish for your XXth year on the planet?"
"What is one thing we can help you accomplish this year?"
"What is your major goal for the next year?"
Put that goodness into the world and let your community of supporters help you make it a reality.
And always remember that allowing ourselves to be helped is one of the easiest ways to deepen our relationships. It allows your friends to be of service (the quickest path to fulfillment) and allows you to feel seen and supported.
Go beyond "Happy Birthday":
After I realized we were getting the birthday wish wrong, I looked at other birthday traditions that no longer serve us. One more was staring me right in the face.
Your Facebook wall. Case in point below:
Don’t get me wrong, these posts are a nice gesture that I appreciate, but deep down, we know that they are not that meaningful.
Remember when we first got Facebook 10 years ago? One of the best parts of our birthday was heading to the wall to see the flood of messages from all of our friends and family.
It was undeniably awesome to feel like the center of all that attention. I’m almost ashamed to admit it, but I remember counting the number of wall posts I used to get at the end of the day. It was some arbitrary marker of my value—but that number had little to do with how close or connected I felt to the people that mattered.
Our digital world has changed. Facebook has become less of a collection of our friends and more of a repository for all the people we used to know.
When our birthdays hit on Facebook, we are greeted by a sea of templated messages from folks that we haven’t seen in years. We all know what the "text the number 1" to wish someone a happy birthday message looks like, and most users opt for these thoughtless, automated messages.
I’m not against sending birthday messages on Facebook. They definitely feel nice. But I think we can do better.
Whenever we give a compliment or affirmation, we should be mindful that just saying "Happy Birthday" or "I love you" isn't nearly as meaningful as telling someone why you care.
"Happy Birthday. You are literally the funniest person I know!"
"Happy Birthday! You are the best friend I could have asked for this past year."
"Happy Birthday! I really love what you’re doing in the world and hope the next year is awesome."
When we go beyond "Happy birthday," we show a level of thoughtfulness and specificity that will allow the recipient to feel the authenticity of our statement.
Little tweaks in the way we communicate can have a massive impact on the way we connect.
Never forget: Kindness is free; spread it around.