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How Rituals Make Life Better

by Beth on April 22nd, 2024

I’ve written before about the many routines that I’ve incorporated into my daily life. They make it easier for me to remember to do things that are good for my well-being. These routines bring me closer to my goals.

So how are rituals different from routines? According to Harvard professor Michael Norton, routines are something we do, whereas rituals are about how we do them. They are “emotional catalysts that energize, inspire, and elevate us.” Rituals add something to our lives that enriches them, helping us savor our experiences. They impact us on an emotional level.

In his book, The Ritual Effect, Norton gives many examples of rituals. There are traditional rituals that have been passed down for centuries, like religious events, rites of passage, or tea ceremonies. There are also rituals that have been newly created by individuals, couples, or groups. Maybe it’s eating a square of dark chocolate after dinner or walking to the farmer’s market with your spouse every Saturday morning or using a special plate for family birthdays.

Rituals can help us feel more in control when facing challenging situations. They can increase feelings of trust in relationships. Rituals can help alleviate performance anxiety. Family rituals can increase our sense of belonging. And rituals can give us a greater sense of meaning in life.

The same set of behaviors can be viewed as a routine by one person and as a ritual by another. We can also change the way we think about our behaviors. I’m trying to be more mindful of some of my routines so that I can shift from a “habit” mindset to a “ritual” mindset. According to Norton, focusing on how I perform these daily behaviors can bring more pleasure and purpose, and maybe even a bit of magic, to my life.

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