Rituals can transform everyday routines into magic. If you don’t believe me, look at what’s happening every night at 7 p.m. in New York City and a number of cities across the globe, including Vancouver, Portland, Los Angeles and Atlanta.
The world is upside down. We’re living and working from home (if we’re lucky), our kids are going to school online, we’re caring for elderly parents, and we don’t see an end in sight.
Regardless of our individual situations and what we’re managing, at 7 p.m. our beloved cities experience a shift in tone. Here in New York, across the five boroughs, people of all ages open their windows, bang pots and pans, shout from the top of their lungs, and for a few minutes, they’re transported out of their own lives and feel connected to something bigger. Something purposeful. That’s the power of rituals. And there’s science behind it.
Why are rituals so powerful?
Rituals make us feel safe and connected to something bigger. We feel like we belong. As a study out of the University of Texas at Austin illustrates, rituals are key to “maintaining group cohesion.” At 7 p.m., as we bang our pots and pans, we’re part of the collective. We’re part of New York City. We feel strong and safe because we know that we’re not alone. We can hear it, see it and feel it.
Especially in a time where loneliness and social isolation have the same adverse impact on our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, it’s crucial we find ways to stay connected to each other. And keeping in mind that studies showed eight million older adults were affected by isolation even before the pandemic forced us all to isolate from each other even more dramatically, we can only imagine how much worse the impact will be on our physical, mental and emotional health if we aren’t very intentional about connecting.
Rituals connect us to purpose — at work, at home and in life. At 7:00 p.m in NYC, our collective purpose is to pause and thank the health care workers. We pause and cheer them on to keep on going so that together we can win the war on this pandemic. And as Dr. Heidi Grant, a social psychologist out of Columbia, underscores, rituals make us value things more. While it’s hard to imagine us valuing the brave healthcare workers, that are fighting for all of us on the frontlines, more than we already do, she notes that “personal involvement is the real driver of these effects.” So when we’re all participating in this shared ritual of gratitude toward our heroes, we can’t help but feel and amplify their immeasurable value.
Here are some posts about the impact this ritual is having …
Laurie Segall, founder and CEO at Dot Dot Dot Media, shared on her Facebook page: “I can’t wait until this is over. But I hope I’ll always remember the sound at 7 p.m. that fills the city every evening — people all over opening their windows to cheer. My neighbor banging pots and pans. The other one stepping out on his balcony to play the trumpet. The little girl across the way jumps up and down, waving at me across the empty street. The quiet avenues are filled with cheering, and you can’t hear the ambulances — just gratitude, hope and a reminder that we’re all here for each other. What a spectacular thing that resonates far beyond New York City.”
Mark Lavine of NYC wrote: “I do find hope at 7 p.m. every night, when my entire neighborhood applauds and cheers out their windows for everything first responders are doing to help get us through this. It seems for all the busy things in our lives that separated us, we are now coming together to fight and win for everyone.”
This pandemic is happening to all of us. But it’s happening to all of us in different ways. Rituals are one way to make us feel a sense of belonging and part of a collective purpose, and maintaining them can be a source of self-care. Give it a try — at work on a Zoom call with your team. At home with your family. On a call with friends. Or with a self-care ritual for yourself — maybe it’s taking a regular solo walk around the block, practicing gratitude daily, or baking a different sentimental treat each week.
And tune into your own city or neighborhood and its rituals or “visit” New York City every night — Lisa Sharkey of Harper Collins posts live every night at 7 p.m. from her rooftop — and you too can transform your everyday routines into magic. Because rituals are good for people, great for the business of being human, and changing the world.
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Erica Keswin is a bestselling author, internationally sought-after speaker, and founder of the Spaghetti Project, a roving ritual devoted to sharing the science and stories of relationships at work. She helps top-of-the-class businesses, organizations and individuals improve their performance by honoring relationships in every context, always with an eye toward high-tech for human touch. Her book, Bring Your Human to Work: 10 Sure-Fire Ways to Design a Workplace That’s Good for People, Great for Business, and Just Might Change the World, was published in 2018 by McGraw-Hill. Her next book, Rituals Roadmap: The Human Way to Transform Everyday Routines Into Workplace Magic, will be published by McGraw-Hill in January 2021. Click here to receive a free copy of the “Bring Your Human to Work-Book.”