Whether it’s the anticipation not paying off, things not going exactly as planned or simply feeling a little off, sometimes our happy celebrations just don’t feel all that happy.
For example, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 64% of people with mental illnesses report their conditions are worse around the festive season in December – a supposedly happy time.
NAMI director Ken Duckworth added that “for many people the holiday season is not always the most wonderful time of the year”.
It’s not uncommon for people to dread their birthdays, either. Big milestone events in particular can seem daunting to some. And for those in a relationship, the unhappiness can be even more pronounced – according to data from Getting Personal, almost a quarter (23%) of those living with a partner have dreaded their own birthdays, compared to one in six single people.
But why are happy occasions sometimes SO miserable?
Well, you might be experiencing something called ‘perfect moment syndrome’ and it’s all to do with your expectations of how something should be, rather than accepting and experiencing the moment or occasion as it happens.
Perfect moment syndrome was first coined by author and mental health expert Sarah Wilson in her book First We Make The Beast Beautiful. In it, she said the phenomenon “afflicts those of us who think life should operate in a certain way, to certain ratios”.
She explained that we tend to think that “birthdays are always happy, a week in Thailand is meant to be relaxing, that a long awaited date with your partner at a special restaurant will bring you closer together”. But it doesn’t always work like that.
Sarah Yudkin, a relationship anxiety coach, identified with this. In a TikTok video she explained that when she set the bar high for how things should go, she was leaving a lot of room for disappointment and ended up feeling that the experience she’d had was not as it “should” have been.
That “should” is exactly where the issue lies. We place expectations on what “should” happen, instead of experiencing what will happen, as it happens.
I know for myself that I usually dread New Year’s Eve. I find the intensity of emotion around that time of year far too much to handle, I’m not great with breaks in routine and I feel like I’ll never be able to live up to what I “should” do at that time of year.
How to deal with perfect moment syndrome
According to Yudkin, knowing that you experience this is a step in itself, as you’ll be able to notice it when it shows up in your life. It’s about recognising and being mindful of the fact that this happens for you, so you can anticipate it at the next event.
And the next time you go on a date night, or throw a party, you can be free to be open to the possibilities of the event that’s happening rather than expecting it to go exactly how you’ve pictured it in your mind, she suggested.
Yudkin also recommends giving yourself “extra compassion” if disappointment does pop up during a moment or experience and not judging yourself for feeling it. Sometimes you really are just feeling anxious or down and it doesn’t need to be “fixed” in that moment.
According to Bustle, it can also be helpful to question why your hopes are so high and practice mindfulness in the moment to help keep you grounded.
Getting Personal recommends that if you do get anxious about your birthday or other celebrations, try and keep them as low-key as possible. They advise inviting only a small circle of loved ones, choosing a venue with a “comfortable atmosphere” and trying to do something that everybody can enjoy.
Help and support:
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393.
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill).
- CALM (the Campaign Against Living Miserably) offer a helpline open 5pm-midnight, 365 days a year, on 0800 58 58 58, and a webchat service.
- The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email email@example.com
- Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0808 801 0525 (Monday to Friday 10am-4pm). More info can be found on rethink.org.