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Creating Rituals to Encourage Gratitude

The holiday season is near beginning, when we look back at the fruits of our labors and give thanks for our abundance.

But many people find it difficult to move their attention from the problems in their lives to recognize their blessings. Ritual can provide the framework to evoke a spirit of gratitude and give the holiday season meaning.

For many Westerners, the word ritual has religious connotations, but many non-religious forms of ritual also provide meaning. While ritual is often pushed aside in our modern lives in favor of speed, convenience and self-sufficiency, rituals that we forge for ourselves create a specialness that feels good and provides meaning.

Performing rituals gives people a reason to slow down, connect and feel gratitude. Research backs this up, and shows that ritual impacts people’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors.

Ritual can be solemn or light, simple or complex. We invite you to create your own ritual to bring a sense of gratitude to the holiday season. To help you start out, we’ve provided a few guidelines:

1. Explore opportunities. A ritual can be an activity in itself or it can be based around some task or event. For instance, you could create a daily ritual for the specific purpose of setting a positive tone for each day. You could also create a ritual around eating or washing, to make it a more deliberate and special event.

2. Purposely express meaning. Seriousness is not necessary, but respect for the value and significance of what you aim to do makes a real difference in its impact.

3. Create a structure. At the least, give your ritual an opening and a closing. The opening could be as simple as acknowledging what the intention of the ritual is. You could state, “I’m grateful for this meal and I intend to be deeply nourished by it.” The closing could be as simple as restating the purpose, or expressing gratitude for what was done. You might just say, “That was really good, and I am thankful.” Of course, you could get a lot more elaborate, too.

4. Add elements to give significance. Besides the opening and closing, the main thing that makes a ritual stand out from the mundane is that it’s different from the surrounding stuff. The ritual may involve different elements than those of your everyday life, and moreover, your presence is different. Consider incorporating one or more things to make the ritual unique: lighting a candle, putting on a special piece of clothing, taking off your shoes, placing your hands on the earth, looking at a meaningful picture, eating or drinking something special or whatever feels good to you.

5. Make space for gratitude. Conscious ritual is, at its most fundamental, an act of creating space to recognize the blessings that life offers. And the simple yet profound law that follows is this: The more gratitude you feel for your life, the more you find to be grateful for. We humans tend to think that we need to be exceptionally lucky or highly skilled to attain life’s bounty. But it’s not true. That abundance is there, but we’re often too busy or too wrapped up in our own thoughts to notice. This holiday season, make space for ritual and the richness in your life will become clear.