Birthday Party Speech

For forty years I’ve been one of the most fortunate people I’ve ever heard of.

Starting from the global perspective, there is of course hardly a single country on Earth where people live under such good conditions as in Sweden. This goes for all of us here tonight. If we had ended up somewhere else, ourselves and our loved ones would in all likelihood have had to endure illiteracy, slavery, tyranny, torture, famine, war, severe illness and a very early demise.

With my slightly odd professional perspective I’m also acutely aware of how lucky I am to have plopped down not just where I am, but when. From an archaeological perspective there is no other period in time when people have been able to live so well as we do now. And you don’t have to be very pessimistic to believe that this is as good as it will ever get. Our great grand-children will in all likelihood see even worse environmental troubles than we do, even greater overpopulation – and they will have no fossil fuels to keep the wheels turning.

But OK, let’s ignore this greater perspective and pretend that Sweden today is a completely normal historical environment for people to live in. Then I am still one of the most fortunate people I’ve ever heard of. One of the luckiest of the lucky, as it were.

I have good health and a healthy family. I have a nice house in a verdant area. I have almost never had to do anything boring or exhausting to support myself. I have almost never had to obey orders from a boss. Since my mandatory schooling ended, when I was 15, I have told society, “This is what I want to do”. And with very few exceptions, society has replied, “OK, go ahead, here’s your livelihood, do what you want”.

With such an hedonist and individualist attitude, you might think that I would be a pretty lonely person. But I am lucky on that account as well. For all of my life I have been swimming in love and friendship. I am thinking particularly about my wife and kids. And you, dear people around me, have happily accepted my love and my friendship.

A flattersome listener might interrupt me here and say that my good relationships with people and my comparative professional success are due to good characteristics in me. But I haven’t earned those characteristics. I’m the way I am because I pulled a series of winning lottery tickets from the urn. I was born with a friendly and energetic disposition and found myself with loving parents who commanded rather ample and varied resources. Dumb luck.

If I live as long as my maternal grandfather did, then I have come almost half-way now. Living half a life the way I have is extremely lucky. But I’m optimistic about my future as well. People are commonly divided into those who see their glass as half full and those who see it as half empty. I belong to neither group. I tend to see my glass as 75% full. And so I raise this glass, dear friends, and suggest a toast to good luck, lots of fun and lots of love for us all as we travel on into the future.


12 thoughts on “Birthday Party Speech

  1. First: Happy Birthday. Second: yes, you have been incredibly lucky. Good for you that you noticed. Third: that you noticed the world has its problems means you are an adult. What are you going to do about it? ‘Course, you’ve got to ask can you do something about it? And just what? Fourth: has it occured to you that you career is product of being a member of the leasure class? Fifth: what’s in the glass? That’s what’s important. I hope, at least on your birthday, it was Single Malt Scotch Whiskey–or something you really like.


  2. Thank you! I’m somewhere between the couch potato and the eco warrior on the scale of doing something about the world’s problems.

    Leisure class, no. Everybody in my circles works for a living, including me. I’m just lucky in not having to do boring or exhausting work.


  3. Happy Birthday. Stay in good health when you are heading to your 50th birthday. The thing with getting older is that each year goes quicker.


  4. As those surviving relatives in my parent’s generation get increasingly feeble, and some of them begin to suffer from dementia, I understand the real meaning of “carpe diem”.
    Unfortunately I am myself much too lazy to go on overseas trips, or book passage on the future suborbital space trips from Esrange. But I would encourage you all to carpe the diem like hell.
    For instance, for Martin’s fiftieth birthday I would suggest a bottle of Dom Perignon. And if you can afford a journey to a spot where a full solar eclipse is visible, go for it. The Planetary Society even provides cruises to such events.
    [A less clallenging version would be to get a ticket to a concert by some rock’n roll legends before they all retire]


  5. Happy Birthday! I have lately been considering my coming birthday. I will reach 70 in a few days and I can hardly believe it. One of my ancestors, Elizabeth Poole Stillwaggon, lived 1750-1853 and died when her clothes caught fire as she was lighting her pipe. I doubt that I’ll match her record, but I don’t smoke, so one risk factor is out of the way. I look forward to enjoying your blog for years to come.


  6. Happy birthday, Martin.

    Don’t believe all this stuff about getting old – I have just embarked on the next phase of my career, and I am so excited about it I don’t want to sleep in case I miss something. It gets easier, you know, you learn things.


  7. SkÃ¥l! Gratulerer med dagen. I hope there is some good aquavit in your glass (linie if you want my opinion 🙂


  8. The beloved children’s book character Alfons Åberg (Alfie Atkins) also had his 40;th birthday this week. I only just realised the stories are available in English: “Alfie Atkins”

    Martin: “Alfons mah homie, he mah niggah. We go way back, knowmasayn?”
    -Jeez, you sound like you learned English from Rocky!


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