The Function of Ritual

If there’s one thing we’ve learned in the past year, it’s that having a routine and, yes, rituals (although we may not think of them in those terms) are important for our mental wellbeing. A ritual is an action that you are mindful of because it is meaningful to you; they represent what you value in life. You aren’t completing a task to reach the final outcome; you are doing it because the process is worthwhile for you. If you value family time, the ritual of Sunday dinner or a weekly pizza and movie night might appeal to you. On the other hand, if you value friendship, a weekly zoom craft night or a monthly book club might be more your speed. Anyone who participates in one knows that a book club is not really about scratching a book off your “to read” list. 

A habit is going to the gym every day and running on the treadmill for precisely 60 minutes at the same speed each time while your mind races through everything still on your to-do list. A ritual is walking to the coffee shop with your spouse every Sunday morning because you value these couple of hours that you set aside for each other. Likewise, running in the local Turkey Trot with your family every Thanksgiving, not because it burns 500 calories, but because it’s time with your loved ones, in nature, on a day that is meaningful for you, is a tradition.

Anyone who’s ever kept a gratitude journal or run through a series of stretches every day as the sun rises or sets has experience with rituals, as does anyone who colors eggs every Easter or makes sufganiyot every December. Rituals often mark the passing of time or honor our family history or religious beliefs. 

To get you through the thick of difficult times, it is helpful to commit to adopting at least one ritual to see if it improves your overall contentment. This is what all of the “habit trackers” that are selling like hotcakes are all about…

  •  Either think of or write down something you’re grateful for at the beginning or end of each day.
  • Set an intention for every day. You might just want to choose a word of the day – grace, goodwill, mindfulness, or peace are a few options. 
  • Read five pages of a book before turning off the light each night.
  • Take your breakfast or lunch to the next level by actually dining with silverware, at a table, without a computer or cell phone within reach. 
  • Develop a bucket list for each season. Schedule these activities as far in advance as possible so that they don’t get crowded out with daily minutiae. 
  • Enjoy 15 minutes of silence every day. 
  • Clean up your house every Thursday night so that you feel more relaxed and ready to enjoy the weekend. 
  • Allow yourself a few hours every week to learn whatever you want – drawing, dance, or cooking, for example.  
  • Practice breathing exercises every day at a specific time. 
  • Do something for others every Saturday or the first or last day of every month.
  • Spend five minutes outside every morning – come rain or shine. 
  • Do meal prep for the week every Sunday afternoon. 

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