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Light ALL the candles on my milestone birthday cake!
Meaningful ways to celebrate 40, 50, 60, and beyond
I turned 60 this summer, and I am excited about it! I am still in relatively good health, have enough funds to support myself, and have found meaning in my life. I want to mark the occasion, and my appreciation for my life, in a memorable way. First step: a dream trip to Bora Bora with friends.
“A milestone birthday is truly a significant point in time by which we measure our lives,” says Dr. Anita Gadhia-Smith, of Practicaltherapy.net. “As we grow and mature, we can truly embrace the fact that we are still alive and breathing, after all that we have been through. Each new decade brings tremendously rich and new benefits. Try to plan something special for yourself, give yourself a special gift, or treat yourself to an extraordinary new experience to celebrate your milestone. Celebrating ourselves and life itself is worth doing.”
Diana Place founded Third Act Quest and the 333 Collective, a community of third act women with the mission of celebrating “the most exciting chapter” of life. She survived a rare head cancer, and yearned to be surrounded by her closest friends on her 60th birthday.
“I had just completed my cancer treatments the year prior, and brought together a small group of my closest friends for a long weekend at my favorite, most special place on the planet, Monhegan Island in Maine,” Place says. “We spent evenings laughing around a crowded table in the simple, propane-lit cottage that my daughter and I had visited each summer since she was five, days hiking the trails of this tiny island and special moments on the porch watching magical sunsets.”
This birthday was filled with priceless memories--a special birthday marking the beginning of what has been the most beautiful, meaningful decade of my life so far.” — Diana Place
Michele Lee, a blogger from Manhattan, has wanted to visit Australia since she was in the fourth grade and had a pen pal from here. The pandemic gutted her plan to visit Down Under for her 60th birthday. Instead, she and her family rented a house on the Jersey Shore.
“It actually was a wonderful birthday celebration,” Lee remembers. “My husband and children made it truly special, showing me that it doesn't matter where you celebrate, it's who you celebrate with! But I'm still hoping to get to Australia!”
Fitness and nutrition expert Heike Yates celebrated her 40th birthday hiking Machu Picchu in Peru, her 50th birthday dancing Argentine Tango in Buenos Aires and marked 60 with six weeks in Hawaii.
"Six for sixty!" said her husband, who joined her in biking along the famed Ironman course as part of the celebration.
“The day of my actual birthday was a beach affair,” Yates says. “A giant balloon display proudly announced my age, and the beach's visitors cheered and clapped. For a moment, I was the star of my own Hawaiian story.”
Yates considers her experience more than a trip — it’s a permanent reminder for her to enjoy life.
Each new decade brings tremendously rich and new benefits. Try to plan something special for yourself, give yourself a special gift, or treat yourself to an extraordinary new experience to celebrate your milestone. Celebrating ourselves and life itself is worth doing.” — Dr. Anita Ghadia Smith
For my 40th birthday, I held a themed birthday, a raucous evening of copious food, drink, and dancing. with costume changes with outfits for each decade of my life. More than 200 party guests came attired in clothing from the decade when they met me.
For most people in middle age and beyond, the allure of dancing all night and heavy drinking is outweighed by the toll such activities may take on our bodies and wellbeing. Many today prefer to gather with their closest friends and family.
The 60th birthday holds special meaning in Korea, Japan and China regarded as a rebirth and an honoring of wisdom gained over a lifetime. The traditional celebration of the 60th birthday (called Hwangap in Korea, Kanreki in Japan and Huajia in China) marks the auspicious return to the year of one’s birth after completing the zodiacal cycle. Reaching the 60th birthday was considered a mark of longevity before the advent of modern medicine, when shorter life expectancies were common. Turning 60 also indicated a transition, at that time, to a retirement style of living. Though neither of these reasons hold as true today, the 60th birthday is still a special celebration in these countries, commonly honored with family dinners or trips.
The decade birthdays are a time of self-reflection and re-evaluation for many in our culture. We have chosen our career paths, and are beyond the time-intensive childrearing days. Hopefully, we enjoy good health and continued physical mobility. Retirement may be in sight.
People often plan trips to commemorate big birthdays. I know people who have opted for a pilgrimage walk on one of the ancient Camino de Santiago routes in Spain, Portugal and France. Most who hike the Camino are positively changed by the journey. Another woman I know traversed part of the Great Wall of China for her birthday. Hot air balloon rides, treks in faraway lands, safaris and renting villas in the Tuscan countryside or other beautiful locales also are attractive options.
Giving back is another common way to honor a milestone birthday, either raising funds for charities, or doing hands-on work through organizations. Volunteer vacations are a good way to give back.
I clearly don’t share my mother’s desire, post-80, to avoid celebrating her birthday. She treated her grandchildren to a trip to Portugal for her 80th, but was reluctant to have any birthday hoopla during the vacation. We managed to have a restaurant personalize a cake for her, and she teared up at the gesture.
I am grateful that my law school roommates from both the east and west U.S. coasts were able to take the time to join me on this spectacular trip, and that my son could treat me with the airline tickets as my birthday gift! We laughed and cried tears of joy reminiscing about our lives, from the time we met as idealistic law students, who hoped almost four decades ago to change the world for the better.
My friends were likely more willing to make time to take a big trip with me and time off from their busy lives because it is a milestone birthday. My law school friend who joined me plans to gather us in Corsica next year when she hits the big 6-0.
This year, I celebrate hard-fought wisdom. The average life expectancy in the U.S. for women is 79.3 years today. At 60, I am aware that I have lived much more of my life than I have ahead of me. The horizon is shortening and I don’t want to waste a single day.
Maria Leonard Olsen is a divorced mother with two adult children, an attorney, author and podcaster in Washington, D.C. She is the author of 50 After 50: Reframing the Next Chapter of Your Life. For more information about her work, see www.MariaLeonardOlsen.com.