Did you have fun at an eclipse-watching party? Here’s why those make us so happy

Last week we attended an eclipse party.

Folks gathered on our dear friends’ driveway to watch the moon as it made its way across the lower regions of the sun. We looked through a high-powered telescope, donned funny shaped glasses and peered through pinholes poked in special viewing boxes, oohing and aahing at the spectacle in the sky.

But the best part of the event was the feeling of celebration that each eclipse watcher shared.

For one moment we were all partners in this rare, cosmic event. Regardless of any differences between us, today we were on the same spaceship, each person reaping a payload of benefits in the eclipse-viewing process.

The word celebrate is derived from the Latin celebratus, which means to gather in great numbers to be solemn or festive.

And, who doesn’t love a good celebration? Birthday parties, anniversaries, retirement parties and graduations all bring us together to revel in a specific moment and share in our collective joy.

Human beings have been celebrating together since the beginning of time.

Evidence indicates that community feasting took place in the Neolithic period, 12,000 years ago. The ancient Norse celebrated the winter solstice. Early Egyptians celebrated the Min Festival of fertility and virility beginning around 6000 BCE.

It turns out that celebrations are vital to the survival of the human species.

Research shows that social gatherings that mark important life events (especially if they include food and drink) draw participants together and nurture a sense of collective identity. Members feel connected and safer. They cope better on a daily basis and are more resilient to negative events. Celebrations are especially beneficial in settings that are prone to isolation and loneliness, such as senior centers or nursing homes.

Celebrations improve brain health by releasing oxytocin, dopamine and endorphins that lower levels of stress hormones and improve our moods.

Celebrations can even improve our relationships. As our collective memories kick into gear and the feel-good hormones surge, we feel closer to those special people in our lives. I’m sure that’s why I lovingly reach for my husband’s hand when we watch a young couple tie the knot.

Of course, our datebooks are packed with pre-scheduled celebrations, like Valentine’s Day, Father’s Day and Thanksgiving. And each is worthy of note. But we don’t need to consult our calendars to know if today’s a good time to celebrate. Celebrations can arise whenever the mood strikes us: “My kid finally passed algebra,” “I’m finished with chemo,” or “The first poppies are blooming in my yard.”

Celebrations don’t have to be complicated.

In fact, simplicity is usually best. Excessive details and planning can overwhelm the most celebratory mood. Four little ingredients — an identified topic, a few friends, some light munchies and beverages, and an hour of time — are all that you need to start the celebratory ball rolling.

So the next time you feel like celebrating, have it. You’ll be doing yourself and your community a big favor!