It all happened nearly 10 years ago. I had an “ah-ha” moment in my therapist’s office that seemed at first contrived and ridiculous.
Since then, I have been applying this technique to my life and have found it has not only helped me mentally when I feel low with depression, but it’s also helped me immensely during the pandemic, alleviating loneliness and building my self-worth. What is it?
It’s the technique of creating meaning in the rituals of daily life.
It’s Not My Crow — Learning About Meaning
Ten years ago, my therapist taught me about meaning. (Here’s an excerpt from my upcoming book — and some background for this article.)
“How’s Beth today?” The familiar greeting from my therapist usually spurred me into a downward spiral of crying and depressive talk. But today, we didn’t discuss my previous weeks’ actions; instead, we discussed the negative talk of suicide, dread, loneliness, and death. (Don’t worry, I won’t go all macabre on you.)
I explained how we never talked about death growing up and how I never liked to watch movies that included death or suffering. I told her how I now felt like I wanted to die; there was no point in me being here and how God was the only one who could help me. And right then, she looked away. Ugh! We were talking about me. Why did she look away? I turned my head to look out the window behind me to see what she was looking at. When I looked back at my therapist, my anger flooded in. She was smiling.
‘It’s OK,’ she said.
‘No, what was that? What did you see?’ I asked, annoyed and hurt.
‘Your crow? How did you know it was YOUR crow? How do you have a crow? What do you mean, your crow?’
‘Beth, you said that God was the only one who could help you.’ I sat in silence as she continued. ‘You are the only one who can help yourself, but there are helpers out there to be with you and remind you that you can do it.’
‘Do you mean angels?’ I asked.
‘If you believe in angels, then yes. And if you believe it’s God, that’s fine too.’
My brain was working overtime with questions of what I believe in and religion and angels. She could see my uncomfortableness.
‘Meaning is everywhere, Beth, and the best part is that you, andonly you, get to decide what that meaning and how to apply it. Some people find meaning in church, in a synagogue, in a mosque. Some in their tribal stories, in animals, in the wind. Some people find meaning in numbers, in letters, in premonitions, in angels, in actions. You name it. There is meaning everywhere. You are the only one who can help yourself, and you are the only one who can find and make your own meaning.’
After that session with my therapist, I conducted my own study to see if this “make your own meaning” concept worked for me. I am happy to report it did. I now conduct meaning-making activities throughout my life, and it’s had amazing results.
But the next step is what makes all the difference.
Apply Meaning to Daily Rituals
Last week, a study was published entitled, “Ritualistic Consumption Decreases Loneliness by Increasing Meaning”, where the authors found that…
“a series of studies finds that engaging in even minimal, unfamiliar rituals reduces loneliness”.
Neuroscience News also published the findings and outlined that even the small ritualistic action of dunking your tea bag while making a cup of tea can have added benefits in reducing loneliness when there’s applied meaning attached to the action.
In the article, the study’s author, Thomas Kramer, explains how…
“many people are trying to find structure right now because everything is so chaotic,” Kramer said. “The implications of our study are that if you feel lonely, find a ritual. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. It can help you feel less lonely by providing a sense of meaning and purpose.”
My caveat with this research is that it was published in the Journal of Marketing Research, where the authors were working towards identifying how consumers interact with products. As a marketer in my previous life, I find this fascinating but rest assured, there are many scientific findings around the psychology of rituals as well.
Think about some actions you do daily to apply meaning to make those actions more like rituals?
Creating Meaningful Mindful Moment Rituals
When my therapist explained that creating meaning was up to me, it was a lightbulb moment because I had “adopted” my ritual meanings from others. For example, when I did the dishes, I always turned on the radio, just like my Mother did, connecting her meaning to my action. It wasn’t meaningful for me, so I changed it.
Today, I create my own meaning by applying gratitude to my everyday rituals, creating meaningful, mindful moments. Psychologists explain that if you can find and create meaning in your everyday life through mindful appreciation, you can increase joy and awe in your own life. You can also increase your sense of purpose and motivation. And ritualistic actions are a great place to start.
Here are some of my mindful ritualistic moments:
- Ritual: I wake up in the morning, shower and blow dry my hair. Meaning: This is a ritual I apply gratitude to — I am thankful for the 5 minutes of “me” time.
- Ritual: I wake up my daughter, every morning. I have changed what used to be a source of depression and anger into one of love. Meaning: I remind myself what an awful sleeper she used to be when she was a baby. Now that she is a good sleeper and I have to wake her up, I take a moment to thank her, in my head, in my own ritualistic way and go forward with a gentle tone and actions.
- Ritual: My celebratory morning coffee. Yes, every day at 10 am, I make a frothy coffee with my kids, which I have now labelled our “Cawfee Time” (said in your best Boston accent, please). Meaning: I take the 10 minutes and speak only in my exaggerated Boston accent, which the kids find hysterical and explain that I’m putting Chocolate “sprinkles” on the top, “because I deserve it”! Even though I have one child back at school, the meaning and actions of this ritual make me smile as I think about my life growing up in Boston, about the fun we all had at home during lock-down and expressing that “I deserve it” reminds me to savour my chocolatey frawthy cawfee.
You make meaning everywhere. See if you can find time to instil meaning into your daily rituals, either through applying meaning to a ritual or creating a mindful moment. Hopefully, like me, you’ll find that your loneliness is lifted, and instead, you’re building memories and your self-worth.
Go get ’em!