The Power of Joy
Rituals are everywhere
My mom always made pea soup on New Year’s Day as she believed the green represented money and if we ate it, our money would grow in the New Year. Now, I don’t know about you, but pea soup is about the last thing a person wants to eat after a night of New Year’s Eve revelry. Just saying. Growing up in New York, the drinking age was 18 and being 6’ 1”, I could easily pass for older. I remember way too many New Year’s Days trying to choke down a mouthful or two to make my mother happy. Still can’t stand that stuff. But, she needed us all to eat some, even if it was just a mouthful. This was her comforting ritual every time the calendar changed. On New Year’s Eve, she insisted we all gather at 6:00pm to make a toast because this was always midnight in Germany, her home country. And if we started drinking at 6:00pm, no wonder I couldn’t get the soup down the next day!
You certainly have traditions and rituals as part of your family surrounding the New Year and many other things. Science tells us that rituals are a vital part of human connection, but they can also make us feel less anxious, (think of the athlete who performs certain rituals before competing,) and they can give us a higher level of happiness.
Kim and I recently did a workshop on grief and the holidays, and we began by having each person light a candle in memory of their loved one, a beautiful ritual to remind us that the light of the person we have lost can still shine on in our hearts and our memories. It was a ritual that brought us all together in a way that reminded me of holding hands.
I’m giving a lot of thought to rituals in my life, the role they play, which ones serve me and which ones don’t, and what I might be able to add in the New Year to achieve our positive psychology goal of thriving in life, instead of just surviving. Last year, I added a moment in the morning before I get out of bed to think of at least one thing I am grateful for. Doing this every day, I now find myself rattling off a whole list and it’s not just to delay getting out of bed! It’s that the more energy I put into finding things to be grateful for, the more things I find!
And I think rituals are so vital when we are working through pain and loss. When my brother passed in the beginning of the pandemic and we couldn’t have a funeral, we sprinkled some of his ashes in my backyard and I found myself creating a ritual of sitting out there and visiting with him most evenings. When you start noticing them, you’ll see rituals everywhere, some that you even do every day. Some you do with others and some you do alone. These are important steps in our journey toward self-awareness and the important quest to feel all of our emotions so we can make room for joy in our hearts.
As an adult, sorry mom, but I couldn’t continue the New Year’s day pea soup fiasco, but I’ve created a few others and I plan to add more with a focus of creating the riches that make life worth living like love, connection, comfort and joy.
The Power of Why
Rituals enhance joy
Rituals help to structure our lives. They are a powerful marker of our identity and our group membership. Rituals mark some of our most important moments, from personal milestones like birthdays and weddings to seasonal celebrations like Thanksgiving and religious holidays like Christmas or Hanukkah.
Having rituals to look forward to can be grounding and reassuring in difficult times, by providing us with a sense of predictability and consistency. Rituals are often said to be tied to our values, and as such, can help us connect back to our sense of self, and what is meaningful in our lives.
Research shows that rituals can offer numerous psychological advantages such as helping us savor experiences, giving us a sense of control, and reducing anxiety. They have been shown to increase our emotional stability, help to build our confidence, and mitigate grief caused by life-changing losses (such as the death of a loved one.) Rituals can also help to decrease disappointment or frustration with an experience.
Research found that enacting a ritual enhanced how much people enjoyed activities (including eating foods.) Studies show that performing a ritual before a meal improves the eating experience and makes the food seem tastier. A recent study from Harvard highlighted this phenomena. During the study, participants were broken into two groups. Each group was tasked with eating a chocolate bar. Before the participants consumed the chocolate bar, the researchers asked half of the participants to perform a ritual by breaking the chocolate bar in half without removing the wrapper, then unwrapping only half of the bar and eating it, and finally unwrapping the other half and eating it. Compared to the control group who simply relaxed before devouring the chocolate, those who had performed the ritual reported enjoying the chocolate more, ate it more slowly so they could savor it, and reported that it was more flavorful. The researchers concluded that rituals appear to heighten how involved we are in our experiences.
We can create new rituals at any point in our lives. And we can incorporate rituals into countless aspects of our lives. For example, we can light a candle at the end of the workday to signify and savor our leisure time. We can meditate before important tasks to reduce our anxiety and enhance our performance. We can create mindfulness rituals throughout the day (such as mindful walking, mindful eating, and mindful breathing.) We can also start new holiday rituals too! We’d love to hear all about your favorite holiday rituals and/or the newly created holiday rituals that bring you joy!