Do you remember when you were a child and anticipated each birthday with joy and anticipation? Those sleepless nights and endless days that you spent thinking about the party, the presents, the food and the fun, and all those who were going to help you celebrate your big day? For most adults, this magic no longer exists. It's hard to get excited about another birthday. This is especially true when you know you are going to be alone on your birthday.

Anniversaries also seem to come along quickly each year, just when you might feel that you already invested so much into last year’s occasion. Or, you didn’t do much at all last year and you feel that you can’t let another anniversary pass you by, without putting in some effort for your loved one.

So, whatever your circumstances are, whether it be spending your birthday alone, wanting to plan something special for a loved one or single friend on their birthday, or even thinking about your own anniversary, here are some ideas about what to do and consider. Your plans do not need to involve great expense or extravagance, they just need to be meaningful for you to commemorate the special day, for yourself, or for someone else.

1. Find Time

Most people have to work on their birthday or anniversary. No one enjoys doing so, but the job pays the bills. The first thing you need to do is check out what day the special occasion falls on, and what is available and open on that day; this will help you figure out the best times to celebrate your anniversary or birthday.

- Check and see if you have any vacation or sick days available at work. If so, plan (well in advance) to take the day off.

- If you have to work, ask if you can take an extended lunch break, or possibly leave work early.

- Start your work day by either sleeping in a bit later, or rising early and hitting that bakery that tantalizes you every morning on the way to work. Go by yourself, take your partner along, or meet your birthday friend there and indulge yourself with sweet pastries for breakfast.

2. Look for Birthday and Anniversary Deals

Despite the sentiment, most adults don't like servers singing "Happy Birthday" to them, or making a fuss in front of others on an anniversary occasion. This doesn't mean that people don't enjoy getting something special on their birthday or some kind of special attention. The days of just saying "It's my birthday/our anniversary" are long gone; now, most places ask you to inform them in advance if you are going to spend part of a special occasion with them. Some businesses may even send you a special invitation for a free appetizer or dessert on your special occasion.

- Restaurants and small coffee shops usually offer special occasion deals. Call, or visit, and ask them what they have to offer. Anything from a free cup of coffee to a small discount on a meal is a gift on your birthday or anniversary.

- Local beauty shops and other specialty stores may also offer special occasion deals. Ask local businesses (in person) if they offer specials for those once-a-year occasions. You might be surprised at who will give you a small discount on your special day. Always remember to be polite, smile a lot, and thank every business you ask - whether they offer something or not.

- A few weeks before your special occasion, you should visit websites of local businesses and restaurants (as well as those you would love to dine at) to see about any birthday/anniversary specials. You might have to join their mailing list, but this may give you a wider variety of discounts to choose from. Many businesses are eager to send you their menu and any specials they offer. They want you to visit on your special occasion (and any other day after that!).

3. Buy Yourself or Loved One a Gift

While it is always nice to receive a special birthday gift or romantic anniversary present, sometimes it is not so easy to pretend to love the gift. How many ugly sweaters does one really need? Surprises are not always the best present! If you are celebrating your birthday alone, buying a gift for yourself means you get exactly what you want, every time. If you are planning a birthday surprise for a loved one, take them shopping and let them pick something they want. The same scenario also applies to you and your partner on your anniversary. Make it a fun day out to go shopping together, and each of you buy something for yourself on your anniversary day. Believe it or not, this can be a very romantic thing to do, as you each support one another in the venture for buying what you want. You could even shop together for a romantic gift for the home that suits the two of you (eg, a beautiful new bed cover; an ornament that symbolizes your love for one another).

- Keep your budget in mind while selecting your birthday gift or anniversary present. You want to splurge - because it is a special occasion - but don't go overboard. Is there something you really want, that no one has ever bought you? Something you secretly have longed for? If it makes you happy, go ahead and buy it.

- If you love shopping, plan to do so on your birthday or anniversary. This makes your gift buying more special.

- If going out shopping is not your thing, find something you would like to purchase online. With your partner, sit down together in front of the screen and browse for what you may each like to purchase. Do so in plenty of time in order for the gift to arrive before your birthday or anniversary.

- Do you want to go all out? Ask the store (online or otherwise) to gift-wrap your gift. Of course, there is no surprise in this, but who doesn't love opening a pretty wrapped gift? This way you know you will have at least one gift to open if you are celebrating solo, or at least one gift that you know you want.

- If you are looking for extra meaningful and romantic gift ideas for an anniversary, you may be interested in our article here.

4. Consider the Birthday or Anniversary Menu

On your birthday or anniversary, you should eat whatever you want. If you are on a special diet, follow that diet as best you can, but do splurge in some way. If you were celebrating an occasion for another person, you would make plans for a special meal and dessert. So apply the same rule to yourself and indulge in whatever you want. Take control over the menu - all day long!

- If you love to cook, whip up a gourmet breakfast for yourself or for the two of you. If you don't have to drive right away, include champagne for the ultimate sparkle. Drink to yourself or loved one, and the year to come.

- Have breakfast at your favorite restaurant. If you are on your own, dining alone can be a special treat; especially if you call ahead and they offer a birthday discount for all meals.

- Lunch and dinner should also be special meals. Whether you prepare them at home, or eat out, be sure you choose something you already love, or something you have been longing to try. Birthdays and anniversaries are about growth: tempt your taste buds with new treats.

- If you would rather just stay home (maybe it's going to be a movie night), then call your local delivery place and have them deliver your favorite meal. Be it pizza or pasta, order what you love.

- Eating junk food all day is not a wise thing to do. However, on your special occasion, you can eat whatever you want, whenever you want it. This is especially one of the sweet joys of celebrating alone. If you are by yourself, no one is going to yell at you for eating junk food! Do you want to eat cake and ice cream all day long? Go for it! It's only one day.

5. Include a Decadent Dessert

Your birthday or anniversary feast would not be complete without dessert. Cakes are a normal part of most celebrations. You might not want to buy, or bake, a whole cake; why not make, or buy, cupcakes? You can always buy just one or two cupcakes at your local bakery, and ask them to write Happy Birthday or Happy Anniversary on it. This tiny cake or two is just enough for a small celebration.

- If cake doesn't appeal to you, bake, or buy, something you really love. It could be a blueberry cheesecake, or a golden apple tart. Whatever strikes your fancy is what you should indulge in.

- Go out for dessert. If you have a nice dinner planned already, why not add a sweet treat to the end of your meal? Be sure to mention it's your birthday or anniversary before ordering dessert; some restaurants will give you a free dessert on your special day.

- Some people simply do not like sweets at all. In this case, think about preparing (or ordering) a nice cheese and fruit platter for dessert. Pairing it with a favorite wine is a nice way to relax at the end of the day.

6. Plan Your Dream Date

Think about what you would love to do on a date (even if it’s a ‘date for one’). Would you want to go to dinner and a movie? Go shopping or to a museum? Stay home? Take a walk on the beach or in the park? The possibilities are endless.

- If you are going solo, this means you get to choose the destination, mode of travel, time of departure and return, and have the only say in how you spend your day and night. This day is all about you!

- If you prefer to just stay home and have a movie night, then go for it! Stock up on popcorn, soda and candies that you would find at a theater, pop in a movie, and just relax.

7. Get Outside

Your birthday or anniversary is special, and your special day should not be like every other day of the year. Enjoy life! Get outdoors and enjoy the beauty of this world. Embracing the outdoors is one way to get in touch with nature and self. Take this special day and time to relax and enjoy yourself.

- If you live in the city, a bike ride might be an enjoyable activity. Bike rentals are becoming more common, allowing you to choose a bike that is just right for you. Find bike paths that are safe and offer you sights and sounds that you don't normally see in your daily travels.

- If bike riding sounds too strenuous, how about a walk through town? If you live in the big city, you can always find a green park nearby and walk the nature trails through the manicured park.

- If you love to hike, why not plan a short hike on a well-used nature trail? Try one you have already done, or find a new path to take.

8. Take a Trip

Journeys are a great way to celebrate your birthday or anniversary, even if it means going solo. Choose the destination and mode of travel. The day is yours to do as you wish, with or without a partner. If you are going it alone, this means there is no one else to tell you to "hurry up" or "slow down" or whine because you want to do something different. Being alone also means you make all the calls, and can enjoy your favorite activities without being hindered by another person.

- You can always go to a place you dearly love. However, a special treat might be heading somewhere you have always wanted to go.

- Plan your get-away trip weeks ahead of time. Doing so will allow you to find deals on lodging, transportation and meals.

9. Attend to the Final Preparations for a Party

If you have organized a party for yourself or loved one, plan the birthday or anniversary celebration just as you would any other party or get-together. Attend to those last minute details before the special day, as you want the day to be relaxing and stress-free.

- Shop for any special items days in advance. This includes foods and gifts.

- Clean your home a day or two before your big day. A clean house means a stress-free environment to celebrate in.

- Decorate with balloons and streamers if you really want to go all out. Or, you could go simple and just set out some pretty candles and fresh flowers.

- Choose your outfit the night before your big day. Be sure it is something you love and are comfortable wearing.

- Plan and prepare a special breakfast that is quick and easy to make. This way you are not so rushed first thing in the morning.

- If you have to work, pack a special lunch if it’s your birthday (add a festive cupcake) that will bring a smile to your face.

10. Wind Down

As your birthday or anniversary occasion slowly winds down towards bedtime, finding ways to relax is vital. You can never pamper yourself and/or your partner enough.

- If you are alone on this birthday because you are far from friends and family, think about calling them, or having Face Time or Skype time with them. Who knows, maybe someone will light a candle and sing Happy Birthday to you!

- Buy yourself and/or your partner a new pair of pajamas to lounge in after indulging in a long hot shower or bath.

- Dim the lights, turn on some music, and sit back and relax. Sip wine, tea or your favorite beverage.

- Head off to bed and recall all the special things you did on this special day.

If you find yourself alone on this (or any) birthday, this list offers enough ways to celebrate alone. These ideas can also be applied to a friend you want to spoil on their birthday, or even for yourself and your partner on your anniversary. The goal is to celebrate the special occasion in ways that make you and your loved ones feel special. After all, you only get to celebrate this occasion one day a year!

If you are interested in further information on celebrating particular anniversaries according to the length of time you have been with your partner, you can read our article here.

I would love to hear your comments or answer any questions you might have about this post.

Yours sincerely,   


Dr. Carissa Coulston, Clinical Psychologist

BSc(Hons), MPsychol(Clinical), PhD, MAPS