A few weeks ago, I celebrated Big Love. My husband and I pledged enduring commitment, respect, and fidelity. As a surprise to him, I stepped way out of my box and vulnerably sang a well-known song as a part of my vows (poor Adele, she keeps calling and asking for her microphone back). From the audience, there was laughter and the kind of tears that come when people are touched and moved by something heartwarming or brave. That day, we gathered with an implicit agreement to celebrate a ritual symbolizing togetherness and belonging.
We were there for a united purpose, to feel the intangible magic of love. When referring to the emotional experience of being moved, researchers from UCLA and the University of Oslo have documented a “complex but universally felt emotion” they call “kama muta” — a Sanskrit term that means “moved by love.” They define it as the sudden feeling of oneness with a person or entity. We’ve all felt it, whether it’s a wedding, new life being birthed, an animal being rescued or the United States women’s soccer team fist-pumping after winning the World Cup. We know that feeling.
Why is it important to celebrate?
They often create an unspoken emotional bond between people, which meets our intrinsic desire for connection, collaboration and belonging — all things crucial for human fulfillment. Rituals, celebrations, and rites of passage clearly mark life’s transitions. Traditional cultures commemorate these moments to remind us who we are, where we came from, what we’ve lost and that we matter.
Often, when something good happens, we want to share it. We alert those we cherish or we post a personal press release on social media:
I was accepted into grad school! We adopted a new, sweet-smelling puppy! I won the Louis Vuitton bag on eBay! Our grandchild is being born today! We bought our new home! Aunt Hilda is cancer-free!
We also subconsciously celebrate the smaller things:
It’s Friday! Today I kicked ass at the gym and lifted heavier than ever! Then I said a hearty hell no to overeating for a week and instead listened to my body’s cues about what is nourishing! I went to a MeetUp group and met a fresh and fabulous new friend! Whew. I made it through the yellow light.
From a neuroscience perspective, positive, happy events release dopamine and other feel-good neurotransmitters in our brain. The combination of sharing information, experiences and engaging in vibrant and affirming conversation creates literal changes in our craniums. We release the coveted “love hormone,” oxytocin, resulting in an elevation of neuropeptide production which effectively lowers the stress hormone, cortisol.
Social psychologist Fred Bryant is the father of research on “savoring,” the concept that being mindfully engaged and aware of our feelings during positive events can increase happiness in the short and long run. In his clever way, he posits that “people who savor together stay together.”
Knowing this, here are some ways we can curate a celebratory sense of savoring and connection to others (or ourselves) whether it be mini fetes or momentous moments. We can actively seek out kama muta and notice ways we are personally moved by love.
Celebrate for no good reason
Host celebrations. Go to parties I had a No Name party this spring to bring together female friends. We watched Brene Brown’s Netflix special and spoke the language of courage and vulnerability over chips and dip. We all left high on the goodness that comes from a meaningful night with the sisterhood.
Someone I know is estranged from her beloved granddaughter due to family conflict. She grieves this deeply. This year instead of wallowing in sadness on her granddaughter’s big birthday, she has chosen to throw a party with some family members. She bought a cake and an American Girl Doll. She will put pictures of her around and honor her in the only way she can, from a distance.
Design an Ideal Day (solo or with others)
I learned this from Dr. Martha Beck in her life-coaching program. In your mind’s eye, fill out, in Technicolor, your perfect day. Where are you? What clothing are you wearing? How and with whom will you spend your time? Are you in a large group of people or alone by a stream doing yoga? If you can dream it, you can do it. Go do it. Once your day ends, put all or parts of it on repeat.
Start a Joy Ritual
Do you crave a Zen Den in your home for reading with hot tea and candles? Does a space in the woods call to you? Or do you simply wish to eat your daily dose of healthful dark chocolate with a sip of red wine after the last little shuts his baby blue eyes? Find your joy and do it.
Invite your inner child to play
To find your inner ninja join a martial arts class. Strap on those dancing shoes and celebrate your bodacious booty. Unearth that old recipe from elementary school and make edible Play-Doh with your niece.
Clearly ritualize a beginning or an ending
We all are continually engaged in the dance of transformation, thus it can be helpful to mark new beginnings and honor endings ritualistically. A quiet hike up a mountain with intent to leave behind pain, people or old ways of being or engaging in a shamanic journey with a wise sage to let go of something outdated in your life. An embodied dance at home to fully immerse yourself in the joy of something good and new. An out of town trip with girlfriends to celebrate your divorce and the bold life you’re planning to lead.
So, until further notice, commemorate, praise and revel in everything. When we celebrate, we give meaning to our lives, boost our immune system, strengthen our coping responses and protect ourselves from the impacts of stress. In my home, we have a dinner ritual where we all make a toast and share the best part of the day or something notable that was learned because being a human is hard and sometimes a “lesson of the day” is all we have to discuss.
Start your day with gratitude and end it with a toast to your accomplishments. In your mind, roll around the good moments of the day or week, savor memories aloud with others. And for the love of all things holy, love each other, eat each others’ cooking and say it was good.
This article originally appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of Sass Magazine.