I regularly emphasize that nutrition, sleep and exercise are the key to our wellness and the functioning of our bodies and mind, but a sense of purpose and connection has to be there as well. As I write this it is Valentine's Day, and, whatever you think about Valentines Day, there is a purpose at the foundation of all rituals. We should not underestimate the opportunity of a day like Valentine's Day to reconnect and act on our feelings.
Despite the origins or woo behind tradition; whether Saint Valentine was an imprisoned man helping people during the Roman Empire, or whether it took Cupid to shoot an arrow into your heart to wake you up to what you love; there is a science to absorbing the story.
If we want to take the magic out of rituals beyond just accepting the experience, recent analytical research identified four important outcomes of collective rituals. There are (a) emotions, which guide our wellness, (b) performance goal states, which drive our motivation, and (c) social connection, which hopefully promotes peace and drives collaboration. All of these being fundamental to the health of us as individuals as well as society.
The science behind rituals is difficult to be analytical about because it takes away the ability to let go and absorb the experience, which is the whole point. But some analytical effort can also help us to embrace ritual experience and collective joy as a productive, in a world where everything seems to need to be justified. Experiencing repetitive, symbolic behaviours is purposeful as they reinforce a sense of self purpose and worth, connection to others, and community and common beliefs.
Science tells us that cultures that experience threats, adopt more rituals to unite common interests and focus effort towards a common goal. They motivate us. Some rituals, like cleansing rituals maintain a direct purpose in preventing the spread of disease. Others like Valentines Day, Ramadan, Christmas Day and Tu B'Av, could serve to reconnect us to those we love and the planet around us, and remind us that we are all in this together.
Whatever cultural association you have, many cultures have a time and place for taking stock of the things you care about. It is enjoyable and positive, and we need lots of moments of positivity in our lives, especially at this point in time wherever you are on the planet.
Personally, I see these days of ritual as a moment to take stock and to reflect on connections to people and the planet. To sense the purpose and energy that these connections give me.... and, to make sure that I express that as we sometimes forget to take a moment to let others, or even ourselves, understand what we feel.
So why not make the collective vibe of rituals, on any day of the cultural calendar that means something to you, to be an opportunity for us all to do that in our own ways. Whether you believe that gifts are a way to express it, feeling the sand beneath your feet, taking the time to show you care, sharing an activity, or absorbing the moment.
Don't underestimate the benefit behind rituals; science tells us it is there. So we can add that to the ingredients list for a healthy and long life.