- Rituals can enhance quality of life and promote stronger connections to others.
- Rituals are a series of actions performed regularly by individuals or groups.
- Anyone can create a ritual to mark important milestones or make ordinary moments more special.
The Role of Rituals for Happiness
Daily life is filled with challenges to our equilibrium and well-being. In some cases, we may be overcome with instability and in other cases, the days seem to march on in an unceasing yawn of sameness. Emerging science suggests rituals can promote mental health and resilience.
According to social psychologist Shira Gabriel, shared rituals promote feelings of unity that strengthen our bonds with others. They make everyday moments more meaningful or special and mark the significance of important life transitions. These benefits of rituals can translate into higher levels of happiness and life satisfaction.
Though there is no consensus definition of the term, rituals represent a series of actions performed regularly by an individual or a group. They may be solemn, joyous, or playful. While many people consider rituals to be an expression of a religious or faith tradition, they may be adopted by anyone wishing to impart a sense of the sacred through actions and the use of objects, music, symbols, or language. While the origin of rituals is debated, they have been observed throughout human history and across all geographies and societies. (Penner, 2016)
Essential Ingredients of Rituals
Casper Ter Kuile shares three key ingredients (intention, attention, and repetition) for the creation of rituals in his book, “The Power of Ritual.” (Ter Kuile, 2020)
- Rituals must be developed with clarity around their intention. Consider what feelings, emotions, or experiences you are inviting into the moment. Examples include respect, honor, appreciation, celebration, commitment, letting go, welcoming in, gratitude, or forgiveness. Rituals can invite both positive and negative emotions. Holding space to share grief, sadness, and loss are a powerful way to release and express emotions that might otherwise be suppressed or experienced alone.
- Rituals help us focus our full attention on experiencing and expressing feelings and emotions. They ground us in the present moment, allowing us to process and reflect more fully on our inner experience of life. This can help us to enjoy a common activity more, such a savoring a meal or a glass of wine. (Nauman, 2013) Focal points that ground our attention might include music, candles, poetry, movement, silence, or symbols.
- Repetition of rituals help us mark time. Regular rituals create moments of reflection that balance and recalibrate our awareness of what matters most to us, infusing meaning into the fabric of everyday life. They also create memories that mark the significance of important events.
The Recipe for Rituals
While rituals are intentional and require thoughtful preparation to create, they do not need to be overly formal. Kursat Ozenc and Margaret Hagen provide seven steps to designing rituals. (Ozenc and Hagen, 2019)
- Identify the intention of the ritual. What point do you want to make, what message do you want to convey, what emotion do you want to embody or allow others to express or experience?
- Identify a trigger. This includes the specific time, place, occasion, or people that will be involved.
- Brainstorm ideas. Identify many possible elements of the ritual that might add meaning or welcome the expression of the intention named in step one.
- Identify a symbolic act or a prop. This is what sets the ritual apart and adds special meaning for those who participate. It might include something that people participating take with them or set aside to use only for a specific ritual.
- Create a narrative with a beginning, middle, and end to the ritual. Think about the elements of a good story and build it into an experience.
- Implement a practice session of the ritual. This is an important step because it allows us to experiment with logistics, timing, and the sequence of events. Consider the importance of a rehearsal before a wedding.
- Codify or document the ritual. Create enough detail for the ritual to be replicated and incorporated into regular practice, assuming it’s a ritual that you want to repeat. Documenting a ritual can also serve as a keepsake or reminder of the significance of the ritual (e.g., weddings, funerals, anniversaries, retirements).
Another aspect to consider is how specific members of a group will contribute to the ritual. What might they bring, how might they act, how should they prepare for the ritual?
Create a Cadence for Practice
Once the ritual is created, it’s important to embed it into some cadence that reminds us to complete it. Consider the patterns and rhythms of daily life. Are there certain natural occurrences that are consistent enough to support repetition?
Some suggestions include:
- Passage of time – the start and end of every day, week, month, or year
- Activities of daily life – meals, commuting, meetings, periods of rest
- Seasonal transitions – the start or end of winter, spring, summer, or autumn
- Important regular holidays – national, historical, religious, indigenous
- Anticipated transitions that most people experience – Starting, changing, or ending: jobs, relationships, or periods of growth and development
Rituals can add a spark of joy to our lives, connect us to others, and acknowledge important milestones that might otherwise fail to be honored. Consider how you might create a new ritual that promotes meaning and connection for yourself and others.
Casper Ter Kuile. 2020. The Power of Ritual: Turning Everyday Activities into Soulful Practices. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.
Kursat Ozenc and Margaret Hagan. 2019. Rituals for Work. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons.
Hans H. Penner. 2016. Ritual. Encyclopaedia Britannica. Accessed August 25, 2022. https://www.britannica.com/topic/ritual/Functions-of-ritual