Creating and Altering Rituals
During the COVID-19 pandemic many people have had to give up important shared rituals—graduation ceremonies, long-awaited concerts, religious services, opening day baseball, and even funerals. The loss, while necessary, is profound.
No one knows exactly how forgoing shared rituals will affect us individually or as a society. However, science does give us some clues. By understanding the purpose of shared rituals, we can try to preserve their intent and create a sense of shared emotion, connection, and transcendence.
Why We Have Shared Rituals
Shared rituals play an important role in our psyches, according to social psychologist Shira Gabriel. Her research suggests that rituals—choreographed events that produce an emotionally laden experience—create a feeling of unity and sacredness that bonds us together with others.
“Rituals give us a feeling of going beyond the ordinary—of having a moment that transcends that, turning events into something special and meaningful,” says Gabriel. This is because when we participate in a ritual, we experience a sort of emotional contagion that Émile Durkheim called “collective effervescence.” The energy in these rituals increase our sense of commonality (even with strangers) and make us feel we are part of a larger community. She also says that we often create shared rituals when we go through important life transitions, too, because they mark the passage of time as sacred. Weddings, funerals, and graduations, for example, all give us a sense of meaning, which makes forgoing them so hard.
“There’s no doubt that people are going to grieve and are going to feel sad about the loss of what they had planned,” she says. Losing out on shared rituals may also be difficult for society at large, Randall research has suggested that when people stop gathering together to share emotional experiences, their sense of oneness tends to dissipate. But Gabriel research findings suggest that collective effervescence and social solidarity don’t happen only during big events; they can occur in everyday interactions, too, like watching TV together or attending an interesting lecture. “Everyday moments of collective effervescence can make us feel more connected to others and make us feel as if our life has meaning,” says Gabriel. “Our research suggests that people who experience these things a lot are likely to be happier and feel less anxious and depressed.”