6 Memorable & Intentional Ways To Spend Your Birthday Alone
Every birthday makes you another year older and wiser — and that’s something to celebrate!
But, if you’re spending your upcoming birthday alone, a celebration might be the last thing you want to think about right now.
I get it. Birthdays are generally a time for presents and parties so it’s easy to feel down if your annual milestone isn’t going to be spent with others, or in the way you’d like.
The idea of spending a birthday by yourself might be terrifying at first, but I promise that it can actually be a good thing — and one worth looking forward to.
In this article, I’ll cover:
Editor’s Note: This article is part of our ongoing series The Roots Of Loneliness Project, the first-of-its-kind resource that comprehensively explores the phenomenon of loneliness and over 100 types that we might experience over the course of our lives.
Why Do People Feel Lonely On Their Birthday?
Though it’s hard to know exactly how many people struggle with loneliness on their birthday, it’s a lot more common than you think.
When I was away at college, for instance, I lived in a single-occupancy dorm room. I didn’t even have a roommate to talk to, let alone someone to share a slice of birthday cake with.
I was alone on my birthday and to make matters worse, birthdays are not holidays — classes were still in session and the day became “just another day.”
No cake. No party. Just homework.
At the time, I supposed that it was my official (and slightly depressing) welcome to adulthood.
Loneliness in college aside, there are a variety of other reasons why someone might feel lonely on their birthday, including:
- Existential dread about aging and mortality
- Pre-existing conditions, such as depression, which often are worsened by birthdays and other milestone events
- Being unable to participate in previous birthday traditions, whether due to a loss or a big change in your life
- Feeling reminded of what you haven’t accomplished or attained after “another year has passed you by”
- Feeling lost and unsure about what to do with your life
- Getting older and “still” being single
- Feeling disconnected from the people around you
One of the most common reasons that people tend to feel lonely on their birthdays has to do with fears relating to their own mortality.
After all, you can’t have a birth without also having an eventual death…at least until science finds a way to make us immortal.
A birthday is about becoming another year older, and this can cause people to experience a sort of existential loneliness that can result in an overwhelming desire to avoid their birthday celebrations altogether.
Some studies have suggested that people, particularly on milestone birthdays (such as on a 20th, 40th, or 50th birthday), are more likely to die by suicide.
This phenomenon, sometimes referred to as “the birthday blues,” is likely to be caused in part by loneliness since loneliness increases one’s risk of self-harm and dying by suicide.
Those who are prone to experiencing loneliness or depression may find that their birthdays exacerbate their symptoms.
Even if the birthday blues aren’t as extreme for you, your birthday can still feel like a sad occasion if you’re struggling to adjust to major changes in your life.
This is especially true if you’ve relocated to a new city, moved away to attend college, or even switched jobs.
If you associate your birthday with certain traditions — as I do — celebrating the event in a different environment or having your first birthday after losing a loved one can be incredibly lonely.
Instead of focusing on the present, you might be wishing that this birthday could be the same as previous celebrations you’ve had in the past, which can lead to feelings of sadness and loneliness.
Your birthday might also serve as an unwelcome reminder of what you don’t have.
If “everyone else” seems to have their lives together at your age — and you don’t perceive yourself to have met those same goals yet or you feel lost entirely — it’s easy to think that you’re somehow falling behind in life.
You’re not. We all develop at our own speed and achieve things in our own time — even if we have no idea what to do with our life — or how to figure it out.
Additionally, you might be feeling socially and emotionally lonely, and a lack of meaningful connections with others can make a birthday for one an isolating experience.
Bottom Line: There are a variety of reasons people feel lonely on their birthdays, including fears about mortality, existing depression, struggling to adjust to a major life change such as a loss or new environment, not “achieving” as much as others your age, and being socially or emotionally isolated.
If depression is leading you toward suicidal thoughts, you can call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline any time, day or night, at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
If you are Deaf or hard of hearing, you can call that same number using a TTY through your preferred relay service or by dialing 711 before the number, or connect via online chat.
There are additional resources available through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s website.
6 Intentional And Memorable Ways To Celebrate Your Birthday Alone
Just because you’re alone on your birthday doesn’t mean you should sulk at home, ruminating over quotes about loneliness and crying because no one sent you a Strip-O-Gram.
(You can order your own, if you really want one. Sometimes the best gifts are the ones we buy ourselves.)
Instead, make your birthday your own and do it with intent. Short of adhering to local and state laws, there’s nothing you can’t do with it — and that in itself is a gift.
Even if you’re struggling to come up with what to do on your 17th or 18th birthday when you have no friends, there are plenty of things that can make the milestone brighter — and unforgettable.
- Do that thing you’ve always wanted to do:
You know what I’m talking about — that one thing you always meant to do “someday” but the moment always remained out of reach? Well, today’s your day — no excuses.
Instead of trying to buy yourself happiness, focus on making the memory of a lifetime.
Studies have shown that new experiences actually make us happier, and if you’re spending your birthday alone, you’ve been given the perfect opportunity to do something new — without fear of judgment.
This is your day and the world is your oyster! Go kick that bucket (list)!
If you know you’re going to be alone on your birthday, take a little time to plan things ahead of the date. This is especially important if your bucket list adventure is something that needs to be scheduled in advance.
Want to go skydiving or swim with the sharks?
You can’t do either of those on a whim, so make sure to mark your calendar, ask for time away from work if needed, and schedule that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity you’ve been putting off for far too long.
Even if you do this type of activity by yourself, odds are good that you’ll be with others who are also new to the experience — and that can be an opportunity to foster connections with people at the same time.
Of course, your birthday plans don’t have to be an all-day bucket-list affair if you don’t want them to be.
Maybe you’ve never eaten Indian cuisine but have often thought about trying that new restaurant in your neighborhood. Stop being curious and go enjoy an awesome meal!
Or, perhaps you’ve never gotten a massage before and have been thinking about checking out the spa downtown. Use your birthday as an “excuse” to finally indulge in some relaxation!
If you’re feeling unsure about going out on your own, you can incorporate some old traditions to reduce anxiety — such as getting your favorite cake and blowing out the candles.
One of the beautiful things about being alone on your birthday is that you don’t have to worry about anyone else.
When you’re having a solo birthday, revel in the freedom and pride you get from doing something new independently, no matter what that happens to be.
- Remember your favorite things about the past year in unique ways — and consider all the good that’s yet to come:
For those of us who don’t mind being alone but want to do something meaningful on our birthdays, taking a look back over the last year and making kickass plans for the next 12 months is a perfect way to celebrate.
Who says reflection and goal setting are activities appropriate only for New Year’s?
When you get right down to it, your birthday IS the start of a new year and this is the perfect time to take stock of your life and set goals.
This is especially useful if you’re trying to figure out how to celebrate your 40th birthday alone or facing another similar milestone.
To get started, I recommend looking at photos, journal entries, tickets from events, and items you’ve collected in the last year to reflect on all the things you did and achieved.
(When you’re looking at photos, though, try to avoid social media as much as possible. You do not want to get sucked into doom-scrolling through other people’s lives on your birthday!)
Several of my friends collect wine corks and every time they drink a bottle of wine with others, they write the date and the people they drank with on the corks.
Whenever they look at the corks, they’re reminded of all the amazing people in their lives and the moments they’ve shared together.
“Funny” little collections like that might seem silly to some, but they can serve as powerful reminders of the things we did — and who we enjoyed those experiences with.
If you’re like me and you absolutely suck at celebrating your own accomplishments, take the time to actually consider the amazing things you’ve done in the past year.
Think about how long it took to reach some of your bigger goals.
Weeks? Months? Years? How long did you celebrate? Probably not nearly as long as you worked to meet that goal. Be grateful for and proud of all you’ve done!
Studies have shown that routinely practicing gratitude can improve your overall mental health — so what better time to celebrate your amazing achievements?!
And when it comes to planning out the next year, let yourself daydream.
What would the best version of the upcoming year look like for you?
I’m more of a Pinterest gal myself, but if you want to grab a poster and whip out some glitter and glue, make yourself a vision board for the next year.
Fill it with gorgeous photos, inspiring phrases, and get excited about your future.
Of course, you want to make sure your plans happen.
Let’s face it, we’ve all let our intentions slip by because we didn’t make an actionable plan and “wishing and hoping” isn’t gonna get it done — so start mapping out the steps that will make your dreams a reality.
Book a plane ticket, do some research on how to publish your book, or think about what you need to do to reach your biggest goals for the coming year.
You’ve got this!
- Look to the stars to learn more about yourself:
To be fair, a lot of folks think astrology is a bunch of hooey — and maybe it is — but your birthday is a great time to indulge in a little frivolous fun so why not get a birth chart reading?
You can’t throw a rock across the internet without hitting an astrologer or psychic (they should have seen it coming, am I right?) but you can easily find an affordable service online to discover what the “stars” say about who you are.
Will it be accurate? Who knows — this isn’t exactly a science we’re talking about here.
But it will be entertaining at the very least and the insight offered might just open your eyes and provide some useful guidance that relates to your past and future.
If you’re more of a bookworm, The Secret Language Of Birthdays and The Book Of Birthdays are fun reads that offer similar insight for every birthday of the year.
The bonus? You can look up birthday details for everyone you know and later impress them with borderline-creepy facts you know about their personalities.
Or you could just tell them which famous people they share a birthday with. That works, too.
- Celebrate the occasion with strangers:
If you’re craving social interaction and the idea of being alone on your birthday makes you want to bang your head against a wall, then you’ll probably love celebrating with strangers.
While most people think of celebrating their birthday with loved ones, doing it in the presence of strangers is better than staring blankly at your ceiling and wishing the day away.
Obviously, the way you get others to celebrate with you matters. You don’t want to end up annoying people or coming across as narcissistic if you’re too demanding.
So, how do you get others to join you?
Make or buy your favorite cake, grab some paper plates and utensils, then head out to a nearby park and offer a piece of cake to strangers — at least during non-pandemic times.
This might feel awkward at first and some people might even balk at accepting a slice, but there are so many people in the world who are yearning to make a connection of some sort — even with a random person at the park.
And don’t worry, because people will take you up on your offer — free cake is a pretty sweet incentive.
Alternatively, have an open invitation for a meal at a restaurant of your choice — or, if you’re feeling brave (and are taking safety precautions), at your place.
You can post in local Facebook groups, sites like Meetup, or even Craigslist, and see who shows up.
Bonding over food and the impromptu randomness of sharing a meal with strangers will definitely help you to avoid a lonely birthday, and you never know who you’ll meet — or what connections you might make.
- Spend your time giving to others:
“Wait,” you might be thinking, “You want me to volunteer so I can benefit? Isn’t that bad?”
Here’s the thing: you can volunteer to give back and to feel less alone. It doesn’t have to be an either/or situation. The reality is that volunteering is a great way to connect with others and to reduce loneliness.
This is especially true for millennials and seniors since both populations tend to struggle with loneliness. Even if you’re younger and unsure of what to do on your 18th birthday alone, for instance, volunteering might be the perfect way to spend your day.
Organizations like Little Brothers Friends Of The Elderly and Meals On Wheels connect the elderly with younger people and can be great avenues for volunteerism.
Volunteering often helps you to gain a new perspective on life and to be grateful for what you have.
On your birthday, being grateful that you’ve made it through another year is especially important — and it’s something you should be proud of.
Remember, you don’t have to join up with an organization to volunteer or give back to others.
Small acts of kindness, such as delivering groceries to a sick neighbor or helping your friend with yard work, can make a major difference in both the lives of others and in the way you feel.
Volunteering also helps you to put your life into perspective.
Sure, your birthday might not turn out the way you imagined, but it won’t be the end of the world because you put something good into it.
In fact, it just might result in your most memorable birthday yet.
- Let yourself be really — and truly — alone:
Sure, being completely alone on your birthday might sound like a terrifying prospect, especially if you normally spend it with others — but hear me out for a moment.
Turn off social media. Hell, turn off your entire phone, too — and use your birthday to indulge in some intentional solitude.
Our daily lives are filled with constant noise and distraction. External stimuli come at us from every conceivable direction and the act of just turning it all off and “stopping the world” for a little while can be the breath of fresh air you didn’t know you needed.
Don’t answer the phone. Don’t engage in conversation on social media. Spend some time alone with yourself at home — for yourself.
Solitude can provide a way to boost your creativity or productivity, allow you to gain some inner clarity about your life or goals, and it can also help you to reconnect with yourself.
When is the last time you heard yourself breathe?
Sometimes, putting the rest of the world on silent can be the most wonderful birthday gift of all.
There are plenty of ways to have a meaningful and fulfilling birthday alone.
Whether you’re adventuring into the world and doing something new, reflecting on the past year and making goals for the future, celebrating with strangers, taking time to volunteer, or just embracing solitude, make the most of your special day!
You’ve got everything you need to start an unforgettable party-for-one.