Raising the Celebration Bar

When Sarah and I were seriously dating and, eventually, engaged to be married, we set something of a precedent of celebrating certain events in our lives.

When one of us got an A in a difficult college class, we celebrated by going out for dinner and a movie.

When one of us got a post-graduation job, we celebrated with a weekend getaway.

When we discovered that we were going to have our first child, we celebrated with a long road trip.

Every milestone, whether large or small, was a cause to celebrate. We’d go out on an expensive date, often hitting one of the most expensive restaurants in town. We’d buy ourselves a new gadget to share, like a new television or a DVD player or a video game console (yes, Sarah plays games a bit, too). We’d go on a trip.

To put it simply, we intimately tied our personal successes to the acquisition of a “goodie” of some kind. Eventually, it became hard to pull that linkage apart. When we had a personal success, it felt incomplete without some sort of “treat.”

This caused two problems.

One, personal success became an expensive proposition, often undoing the actual benefit of that success. Here’s a straightforward example: if you “celebrate” a raise by going on a more expensive vacation, you just ate the benefits of that raise. Most examples have a similar phenomenon going on, though it’s less direct.

Two, and this turns out to be the important one, the sense of pride and joy that comes from a big moment in your life is lessened because you begin to expect “more” from it. Completing a big project isn’t enough – you need to celebrate, too, to make it feel really complete.

In other words, the act of celebrating achievements not only costs you, it also undermines the feeling of success you get from that achievement.

Over time, our solution has been to separate achievement from celebration. We rarely tie celebrations to actual achievements in any way. When we do enjoy something special, it’s not tied at all to a personal accomplishment.

The personal accomplishment itself ends up feeling like much more of a reward – and much more enjoyable. Without a celebration attached, we can simply savor the achievement and save the special treat for another time.

The end result is that achievements mean more, we have more “special” moments (both achievements and non-achievement special events), and we save ourselves money over the long run.

The next time you consider “celebrating” an achievement, consider passing up on that celebration for now. Instead, kick back and personally enjoy and reflect what you’ve accomplished. You’ll find that accomplishment brings its own rewards.

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