Zooming in on Celebrations!


with co-authors Sally Maitlis and Arne Carlsen


Celebrations are underrated and underutilized in our virtual worlds. This blog is a celebration of celebrations on Zoom or on any of your favorite virtual platforms. It is a call to celebrate more and to use our imaginations in how we come together to mark important milestones and accomplishments, to honor others and engage in play.


We don’t have to tell you things are very serious right now. We know that objectively this is an incredibly challenging and distressing time, one that brings grief, isolation and anxiety to many. Our stress and alienation is being compounded by the amount of time we spend connecting virtually. We believe it is time to remember the power of celebrations to uplift us and to connect us, providing booster shots to our moods but also to remind us of our shared humanity and the possibilities for a hopeful future. Celebrating uplifts us by bringing our attention to the good, sparking gratitude for what we have (Emmons & McCullough, 2003). It helps us to savor positive events and experiences – a powerful path to well-being (Smith & Bryant, 2017) and mastery (Amabile & Kramer, 2011). Celebrating is also a ritual that connects us to others by recognizing and appreciating their efforts and achievements (Fagley, 2016). By making celebrations a ritual and institutionalizing this form of interpersonal recognition, people and organizations can make active constructive responding to good news a repeatable and valuable form of uplift (Lambert et al., 2013).


We offer three examples of recent Zoom celebrations we have participated in as a means of illustrating their power but also inspiring us to take up the spirit and challenge of more celebrating at a time when we think most of us could use it.


Celebrating a friend’s milestone achievement

All of us march through life. It a simple fact. Along the way, there are markers of progress that we can choose to notice and celebrate or we can let pass by. Recently a friend passed an important marker along the way of composing a book. The milestone event was the submission of a full draft of a book that she had been working on for several years. She told one of us and noted that it felt like a milestone but in this all-of-us-with-our heads-down-time there was no real acknowledgement of this accomplishment. This admission created a challenge to do SOMETHING to celebrate this milestone achievement. On short notice, three of us gathered to surprise our celebrant with a not-normal Zoom call to mark the occasion. When our celebrant joined the Zoom, there were festive wigs, balloon display backgrounds and Cool & the Gang singing one of the all-time favorite celebrations songs. We danced for 2 minutes, and laughed a lot at the surprise. We shared a crazy exercise routine together. One of us played the role of book reporter and interviewed our new book author friend about her experience of writing the book. We shared a sparkly water toast and went on our ways. The celebration took just 20 minutes but was a booster shot for all us that lasted for more than two days. It was such a delight to break set and engage in a jointly joyful expression of appreciation for our friend’s achievement. It was jubilant jolt to see our friend’s surprise and to sense and hear her gratitude. It was such fun to play together even in this brief interlude in a full-bodied way. Each of us left the celebration bolstered physiologically and psychologically and bound by the co-creation of an exhilarating shared memory.


Celebrating the small wins

In pre-Covid times, one of us periodically had dinner with three colleagues, each from a different business school. We met up once or twice a year at a location between our cities, and shared our news, research, and challenges. It was fun, but hard to organize four busy schedules, and the evenings were always short, rushed and infrequent. When the pandemic hit we began to meet by Zoom for an end-of-the-week “drink”. Although we missed the embodied experience of being together, we soon felt the benefits of a regular gathering that allowed us to stay in touch as we traversed the strange new times. We often shared struggles, but now we could also collectively track the small and sometimes bigger wins in each other’s lives: mastering the technological challenges of a virtual keynote, managing a summer vacation without ending up in quarantine, making headway on a piece of writing that was taking too long, finding a new yoga or exercise routine that felt a great fit. This led to frequent celebrations among us, no longer restricted to the sharing of one grand piece of news drawn from the previous many months. Any week, someone had triumphed over a concern of a previous week, and we all raised a glass to acknowledge and celebrate that person and their forward movement. The power in this celebratory practice lay not in its ebullience or creative expression, but in the simple act of staying connected to people through the contours of everyday living. It was this that allowed us to see and celebrate events that could otherwise so easily have slipped from our memories of challenging times.


Celebrating the end of a season

The end of educational programs in the spring can sometimes be events that cry for something beyond the usual summaries, feedback, exam preps and last encouragements. For students they may represent transitions into new jobs and lives, for educators a transition into research time, for all the end of a season and the start of a new. The end of the spring season when Covid-19 hit came with a celebration that stirred raw emotions. For one of us, as teacher, it had been the most rewarding class of its kind to teach, the one with the most lively discussions, spontaneous contributions, a thousand laughs and deeply uplifting stories of how students had learned from action experiments in their work environments. It felt like we had, together, opened doors into the vast potential of human resources that such a program can represent. The last gathering, all conducted on Zoom, had been unexpectedly meaningful, a coming together in bewilderment, resilience and newfound hope. So, when one student asked for 15 minutes of the last session after lunch for a little surprise, we hurriedly made space. What followed was a videotaped celebration with fleeting images from the classroom and clips of personal thanks from students, all carefully put together to the tunes of Dylan’s Times they Are A-Changin’. This was then topped by a live zoom performance by one of the participant’s talented daughter who sang Tina Turner’s Simply the Best:

I call you when I need you, my heart's on fire You come to me, come to me wild and wired Oh, you come to me, give me everything I need

Give me a lifetime of promises and a world of dreams

It all ended with all 48 of us standing and dancing – most unmuted - singing our hearts out to each other. It was a last synchronized dance, conquering the separation of technology with technology, lost amidst tears and laughter, a howling celebrating and hopeful longing. It was a season’s ending we will surely remember.


Let’s commit to try to celebrate more in our virtual worlds, our milestones, endings and new beginnings, our lifetimes of promises and new dreams. Celebrations, like the examples we have offered here, are resourcing events that unlock our capacities and capabilities and build psychological and social health in so many ways. And as Bakhtin (1984) might have said, the laughing rites of celebrating do not deny seriousness but tear it away from fear and intimidation, from single meaning – the laughing celebrating completes and restores its ambivalent wholeness. In this sense we might need celebrating more than ever.


References

Amabile, T. & Kramer, S. (2011). The progress principle. Boston: HBR Press.

Bakhtin, M. M. (1984). Rabelais and his world. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Emmons, R. & McCullough, M. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(2), 377-389.

Figley, N. S. (2016). The construct of appreciation. In D. Carr (Ed.) Perspectives on gratitude: An interdisciplinary approach.

Lambert, N. M., Gwinn, A. M., Baumeister, R. F., Strachman, A., Washburn, I. J., Gable, S. L., & Fincham, F. D. (2013). A boost of positive affect: The perks of sharing positive experiences. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 30(1), 24-43.

Smith J.L., & Bryant F.B. (2017). Savoring and well-being: Mapping the cognitive-emotional terrain of the happy mind. In: Robinson M., Eid M. (Eds) The happy mind: Cognitive contributions to well-being. Springer, Cham.

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