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Happy Birthday: The Joy of Being Fully Yourself

By EmilyAgnew
March 24, 2008

A favorite childhood book by Dr. Seuss inspired this article about appreciating your intrinsic worth.

Long before I thought of having a child myself, I went out and bought myself a copy of Happy Birthday to You!*. From early childhood it was my very favorite Dr. Seuss book, and possibly my favorite by any author. And no wonder. It is a riot of delicious, exuberant images: the hotdog feast on the Smorgasbord's back, the washing off in the Mustard-Off Pools, the Official Katroo Birthday Pet Reservation, the giant cake made of guaranteed, certified strictly Grade-A peppermint cucumber sausage-paste butter--but most of all, the Birthday Bird, who picks you up, escorts you through these extravagant delights, then flies you home on a very soft platter.

I now perceive that as much as these extravagant events thrilled me, there was a depth in my reaction that went beyond visual delights and imagined adventures. Dr. Seuss is exploring the meaning of existence. As he points out,

"If we didn't have birthdays, you wouldn't be you.
If you'd never been born, well then what would you do?
If you'd never been born, well then what would you be?
You might be a fish! Or a toad in a tree!
You might be a doorknob! Or three baked potatoes!
You might be a bag full of hard green tomatoes."

Those green tomatoes always tickled my funny bone. I didn't wonder why at the time, but I know why, now. It's because when I read that part, I knew I was somebody. I had something a green tomato could never have. I couldn't possibly have put it into words back then, but I knew there was something about me that was innately special--just because I'd been born. I didn't have to do anything about it; it was simply true. And my green tomato giggle was an expression of the innate joy of that truth, AND an expression of the feeling of safety inherent in it. It is a very safe feeling, knowing there is not one thing you have to do to deserve to be on the planet.

This is why I recommend this book to anyone seeking spiritual and personal growth. Nearly all books on those topics are written for adults. There are many eloquent, expressive, compelling books written to help you be yourself, or just be. But for those of us who have found it a challenge to truly accept, let alone celebrate, ourselves, the issue invariably started in childhood. Some combination of events, and our interpretation of and efforts to cope with those events, caused us to lose sight of the fundamental difference between ourselves and a hard green tomato. In fact, we may even treat ourselves worse than we treat the hard green tomatoes in our lives: how do you doubt, criticize, or put down a tomato?

So, speaking to ourselves as adults, trying to convince ourselves of our value, may not be effective. It is the child in you that needs to hear this message about his or her innate beauty and value. As a child you may have restricted your sense of yourself, and for very good reasons. But whatever happened to you in the past, you can use your imagination to envision more freedom, more joy, and a deeper, truer sense of yourself.

You can learn how to be the Birthday Bird to yourself, by asking not "what can I get by with?" but "in my wildest dreams, what would I LOVE to see happen here?"  Not "how can I survive", but "if I had the unlimited imagination of Dr. Seuss, and if I were living the most wonderful possible life during my time on this planet, what would it look like?" Dr. Seuss has a delightful sense of the luxuriously extravagant. He is the perfect antidote to the constricted sense of possibility that many of us, sadly, bring from childhood. The key is imagination, and humor oils the lock.

"Today you are you! That is truer than true!
There is no one alive who is you-er than you!
Shout loud, "I am lucky to be what I am!
Thank goodness I'm not just a clam or a ham
Or a dusty old jar of sour gooseberry jam!
I am what I am! That's a great thing to be!
If I say so myself, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!"

What does it mean, though, to "be yourself"? How do you do that as you go through your day, so it isn't just a greeting card platitude? You intent is essential. Cultivate a strong intent to treat yourself with kindness and love and dignity at all times. If you do that, all the wisdom, insight, and support you need for the journey will show up in your life.  You can begin to live this intent by choosing to notice what you are feeling, moment by moment, and honoring that as part of the "you" that you are lucky to be.

After all, as Dr. Seuss so expressively puts it, you are not a clam or a ham! You have innate worth, and you have free choice. Because you have these things, you also have the important responsibility of figuring out what gives you joy. You can create your own inner Birthday Bird and start treating yourself like it is your birthday.  

•    All the quotations in this article are from "Happy Birthday to You" by Dr. Seuss, copyright 1959 (Random House, publishers).


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