Celebration is my attitude, unconditional to what life brings. –Rajneesh
Each of us is on a journey to transform our fears into celebrations.
Endorphins are released inside our bodies when we celebrate, and we feel incredible. When you accomplish something, take the time to celebrate! If not, we rob ourselves of a significant feeling that reinforces our success. Being juiced by the best brain chemistry of Serotonin, Dopamine, Endorphins, and Oxytocin is a fantastic way to live.
My inspiration for this post came from watching Top Gun (1986). I listened to the opening song; Kenny Loggins delivered the iconic Danger Zone. Several lines resonated with me and made the 18-inch journey from my head to my heart.
Out along the edges
Always where I burn to be
The further on the edge
The hotter the intensity
By 1986 I had lived in the danger zone for years, risking my life numerous times. I was juiced by my experiences. “Out along the edges” is always where I burn to be. I never thought I would live to see my 30s. After every brush with death, I celebrated my survival. My brain raged with adrenaline as I used my primitive fight-or-flight system to stay alive.
Our fight-or-flight system is straightforward. After the amygdala sends a distress signal, the hypothalamus activates the sympathetic nervous system by sending signals through the autonomic nerves to the adrenal glands. These glands respond by pumping the hormone epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) into the bloodstream in massive quantities. And it feels good. My survival celebration juiced my body with Dopamine because I was being kind to myself. I was hooked. I became a junkie addicted to extreme situations and celebrating. Inadvertently I had learned how to crave habits and make excellence stick by celebrating success. I mean, really celebrating.
Psychologist BJ Fogg is the founder and director of the Behavior Design Lab at Stanford University; he has coached over 40,000 people in his behavior change methods and influenced countless more. His “Tiny Habits” method states that a new behavior happens when three elements come together: motivation, ability, and a prompt.
In working with thousands of clients, Fogg has found one thing really helps new habits to stick: Celebrating them. The power of celebration can wire new behaviors into our lives — and make us feel great in the process. I learned how to “wire” my brain firsthand at the edge of reason.
Fogg goes on to explain. Emotions create habits. Not repetition. Not frequency. Not magic dust. Emotions are habit’s cement. In designing habit formation, we create a strategy to harness emotions.
Celebration is the best way to use emotions and to create a positive feeling that permanently wires new habits. It’s free, fast, and available to everybody. In addition, celebration teaches us how to be nice to ourselves, releasing Dopamine. Fogg calls celebration a habit fertilizer. Each individual celebration strengthens the roots of a specific habit, but the accumulation of celebrations over time is what fertilizes the entire habit garden. By cultivating feelings of success and confidence, we make the soil more inviting and nourishing for all the other habit seeds we want to plant.
According to social psychology researcher Fred Bryant, when we stop to savor the good stuff, we buffer ourselves against the bad and build resilience. Even mini-celebrations can plump positive emotions, making it easier to manage the daily challenges that cause significant stress.
Having something to look forward to worth celebrating makes us feel more optimistic, according to research led by Hadassah Littman-Ovadia. It could be a new job, retirement, finishing a marathon—or something simpler but meaningful like a lunch with friends, a snow day, or a visit from the kids.
During my 20s, I celebrated being alive. Surviving was always a reason to savor the present. On into my later years, I tackled all my fears with the same hyper-aggressive, “it’s cool if I die” mentality that brought me so much pleasure as a young man. I don’t recommend dealing with anxiety, fears, and insecurities in my manner. But here is how the celebration strategy works in your brain.
Dopamine acts as a neurotransmitter, sending signals to other neurons that serve as a pleasurable reward. These neurons that fire together now start getting wired together in your brain. When we experience the Dopamine reward, our brain pays attention to what we did to get the “feel-good” moment. At this point, we are wired for success.
Dopamine does have a dark side. High levels of Dopamine are related to addictive, novelty-seeking behaviors. Yep. That’s my experience.
In short, celebrate even the smallest of successes. Cheer yourself on. Dance in the rain. Smile, pump your fist, and say, “yes! I did it.”
Until the next time. Travel safe.