The Skill of Celebration: A Meditative Reflection


The following reflection originally appeared in the newsletter I sent out on March 29th, 2022.



If you’re like everyone else who has ever meditated, you’ve had the experience of getting lost in thought during meditation.  Newer meditators tend to get frustrated or self-critical when they realize they were wandering off.  In turn, it usually surprises them when I say I think this is one of the most exciting moments in meditation!  The simple reason is that it’s a very concrete place we can start to transform our mindset and attitude.

The instruction I often give isn’t to be neutral or equanimous about that moment, but to actually celebrate it.  In other words, rather than focusing on how you just lost awareness, you focus more on how now you are back to awareness.  If you hadn’t been meditating, you probably would have been nearly 100% on autopilot, but instead, here you are accumulating a precious moment of presence.  Like raindrops in a jar, they really do start to add up!

However, today’s reflection isn’t about getting lost in thought vs coming back to awareness — it’s about the skill of celebration, both in meditation and in our lives.

Adapted from psychologist & habit expert BJ Fogg, I think of the skill of celebration as “the ability to feel good about your behavior.”

In the rest of this reflection, I will answer some of the most common questions about celebration, including addressing the inevitable resistances many of us have around it.  Feel free to skip around this to the questions most alive for you.


Why Celebrate?

As the linked article above notes, we most effectively change our behavior not by chastising ourselves or noting how we could have done more, but rather by feeling good about ourselves.  More succinctly, he says, “emotions create habits.”  In turn, learning to celebrate is sort of like a shortcut to behavioral transformation.

More broadly, I see the skill of celebration most essentially as a mindset or attitude, and when we can approach life with a celebration mindset, we’re able to much more easily access joy, sweetness, and delight.  I also see celebration as a direct antidote to the inner critic, as there really isn’t room for both looking down on ourselves and feeling good about our actions.


What To Celebrate?

While celebration is of course great for weddings, birthday parties, or various life milestones, I find the most transformative power in focusing on specific, tangible behaviors.  In this, we likewise don’t celebrate ourselves in a general way, but rather our skillful actions.

Importantly, celebration isn’t reserved only for our big grandiose accomplishments, like graduating from college, but rather we celebrate all the little moments of follow-through or skillfulness.  These might include returning to awareness after being lost in thought (for the millionth time!), doing those couple of pushups, flossing your teeth, or texting your loved one.

While I’m focusing this reflection on our own behavior, it could also be directed toward our friends, partners, children, or anyone else.  This externally focused celebration is essentially muditā (sympathetic joy), which the Buddha considers one of the four “sublime attitudes.”


When To Celebrate?

Consider how rewarding a dog for learning a new trick three days after they did it is very unlikely to get them to solidify that trick.  We’re no different.  In turn, if we’re interested in rewiring habits, the best time to celebrate is during or immediately after a skillful action.  However, to counter the inner critic & develop joy, sweetness and delight, we could literally celebrate at any time of any day.  When celebration becomes a core mindset, we can basically arouse joy on command.

All that being said, I would suggest starting with immediacy, like celebrating the moment you come back to awareness, exclaiming, yes I did it!


How To Celebrate?

After working with celebration for some time, it starts to become more and more of an attitude or mindset, where we see the world with “celebration eyes,” instinctively responding to our good deeds & moments of follow-through with positive feelings.

One way to develop this is simply to reflect on the following sentence: “I change best by feeling good about myself,” or, “life is sweeter when I notice and appreciate my good actions.”

However, another way to develop that mindset, and a way to actually do celebration in the moment is through using a technique.  Below are some ideas.  However, note that the best celebration is one that feels organic and natural, like what you’d do/say if you just got great feedback from a dear friend.

  • Say something to yourself, like, “I did it,” “victory,” or “nice work.”
  • Do a physical gesture, like, a subtle smile, a drumroll with your hands, or a little dance
  • Recall a memory, like a teacher or friend who congratulated you, or a time when you were able to congratulate yourself.
  • Reflectively think, like considering what you did, the effort you put in, the fruits of your effort, or how it connects with your deeper aspirations.
  • Visualize a sunrise, a respected person smiling, a warm light or a celebratory scene
  • Feel the celebration somatically / energetically, like pausing, acknowledging the goodness, and lingering in the felt sense for a few seconds.

Take a moment to consider this list — which one feels like it would feel somewhat natural?


Obstacles To Celebrating?

There are many more obstacles than this, but here are four common ones I hear from people:

1. It feels cheesy or contrived.

It’s not really about forcing a celebration on ourselves; however, as in the link above, basically everyone can find some way they relate to positive happenings.  What would you do/think/say when you found out you won a million dollars?  When you heard a dear friend with poor health had a wildly successful operation?  When you went on a basketball court, shot a three-pointer, and swished it on your first try?

All of those questions are likely to reveal some way you naturally celebrate.

As for the cheesiness, I encourage give it a try and put aside that unhelpful conditioning for at least a week.  You don’t have to reveal your celebration to anyone.  Just try it!!

2. It feels self-indulgent and narcissistic

There is a big difference between being full of yourself and applying a helpful skill.  To give some examples, we’re not celebrating how “I am so great,” but rather, “I did a skillful thing.”  We’re not saying, “I celebrate myself no matter what I do, because I am so wonderful,” but rather, “I celebrate my good deeds because I know that positive reinforcement facilitates change & transformation; however, when I do not so skillful things, and I definitely do some not-so-skillful things, I use other tools, like apologizing or reflecting deeply.”  In this way, celebration is actually a tool of wisdom.

3. It feels silly to celebrate little things

People can usually get down with celebrating graduations and weddings, but have a harder time celebrating flossing their teeth, eating a serving of broccoli, or waking up right when their alarm goes off.  I’ve found it can be helpful to again consider our intention of celebrating isn’t to puff ourselves up, but rather to facilitate behavioral change, joy, and self-love.  In this spirit, we can just put aside our resistances for the moment, and embrace celebrating little things as a behavioral tactic to produce big results.

4. I have nothing to celebrate

In short, my response is, “that’s a bunch of nonsense!”  You got yourself out of bed today, didn’t you?  You’ve probably stepped outdoors sometime recently, maybe even walked around or exercised.  You’ve probably shown up empathetically or calmly with a friend at some point in time.  Maybe you’ve put the toilet seat down after using it, cleaned up the counter after cooking, or washed your dishes rather than letting them pile up in the sink.  If you’ve meditated at all in the past month, even for 20 seconds, well, you meditated!!

Basically, if you think you have nothing to celebrate, you’re probably looking for “too big” celebrations.  And if it seems outrageous to celebrate some of the things I’ve just listed, I encourage you to re-read #3.



Celebration is a majorly overlooked skill that can help us bring more joy into our lives, more capacity to see our own goodness, and more power to change our habits.

I challenge you to think of some small thing that you could celebrate within the next hour (like one deep breath or one yoga pose), pick one celebration technique, and let yourself feel good for a moment!


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