I learned this today.
From whom doesn’t really matter. Actually, no one said this to me, but brought it up tangentially, and now it’s going through my head.
The key to happiness and success, however you define them, is based on the balance between non ritual behavior and ritualized behavior. There is also balance between what we ritualize and how much weight we give to each ritual. A positive ritual could turn negative if hyperritualized.
When I speak of rituals, religion is not my focus, although it is a huge source of both positive and negative rituals. I haven’t done a study, but I’m guessing the more ritualized someone’s life is, specifically with positive rituals, the happier they are. However when rituals, such as religious ones, become a spiritual or economic burden, they no longer are positive. Why are some even fanatically religious people very happy? They are not burdened by their religion. It enhances and defines their lives. However, if your lifestyle conflicts with any of the rituals or communal rituals (sometimes homosexuals, singles, women, politics, divorce) then the rituals are burdensome rather than positive.
I know a lot of people with kids. Most of my friends and relatives are really good parents. However, despite the mommy wars, it seems to make no difference if one parent works and one stays at home or both parents work or if the kids are raised by nannies. What matters most is that their lives are ritualized positively (and this doesn’t mean overprogrammed with lessons in this and that, just daily continuity). Some families can only accomplish that if they have a parent at home. And that’s fine. But some families can accomplish a ritualized household through a balance of child care and parental involvement.
It’s why it’s so hard to fix the education system. Although 180 days a year kids’ lives are ritualized in school, if the other 185 days their lives are in chaos because of their home life, crime in their neighborhood and/or financial and nutritional stressers, school doesn't matter enough. Add to that that some of their time is spent with problematic teachers and classmates, success becomes too steep a hill to climb.
What constitutes a ritual? Anything can be a ritual depending on how and when you do it. Whether or not it’s positive or not depends on the ritual’s execution. The most basic ritual that almost everyone does is brush their teeth in the morning. This would turn into a negative ritual if someone brushes their teeth 100 times a day or not at all. The ritual isn’t maximized if you don’t brush your teeth before bed, because you don’t make time or prioritize the ritual.
Eating, working, exercising, watching media or sports, drinking, cleaning, praying, shopping, sex are all possible actions that can be and if ritualized can make for a wonderful life. However they are all also probably the most likely activities to become out of balance and their ritualization becomes detrimental and injurious.
So instead of losing weight, or cleaning more, or pledging to do this or that, perhaps my New Years’ Resolution for 2010 will be to incorporate more positive rituals into my life and phase out the negative ones. I’ll let you know how it goes.