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Rituals! They're good for you.
Key takeaways from 'United on Sunday: The effects of secular rituals on social bonding and affect'
First of all, if you’re reading this on the day of publication: Merry Christmas!
Christmas in and of itself is an important ritual. It’s for this reason that I thought it’d be a good day to share some of my takeaways from a paper about the benefits of practicing rituals.
When I say rituals, I don’t mean stealing your rural neighbor’s goat and doing something—unsavory. For the purpose of the word’s usage here, keeping in mind Wikipedia’s broader definition will suffice:
“A ritual is a sequence of activities involving gestures, words, actions, or objects, performed according to a set sequence.”
So, kinda like your average church session, a Bat Mitzvah or even just ye ole ‘morning ritual’.
In literature, it’s generally accepted that there are tangible health benefits to performing religious rituals specifically.
Benefits of participating in religious rituals have been found to include:
Improvement in general wellbeing
Increased protection against all-cause mortality
Lowered risk of depression
Lowered risk of suicide
Lowered risk of immune dysfunctions
These benefits are best maintained if the so said ritual is practiced at least once per month. But do they need to be religious?
‘United on Sunday: The effects of secular rituals on social bonding and affect’ aims to answer the question of whether or not the same or similar benefits can be quantified through non-religious practices.
Robin Dunbar, best known for coming up with the Dunbar Number, has suggested that religion developed as a mechanism to help form and maintain social bonds. The paper references this and purports that the idea is supported by a wealth of historical evidence. And so going back to this original mechanistic purpose of forming social bonds as the catalyst for driving the above benefits, the question of interest became whether the benefits of these bonding experiences can be facilitated without the requirement for an element of religio.
No, I didn’t forget the ‘n’.
In Latin, religio means something along the lines of sanctity, respect, awe or conscientiousness —
“The word religion derived from the Latin word religare (“to tie” or “to bind”) and religio (“conscientiousness,” “respect,” “awe,” or “sanctity”). The idea is that the soul Is bound to God. Religion has been defined as everything from the immediate awareness of identity with the absolute, to the passionate striving for the transcendent, to the psychological projection of the idealized human self onto The infinite, to the consciousness of the highest social values.”
— Dr. Akanksha, Philosophy of Religion
In order to answer the original question, the study of this paper recruited participants from a Christian church and a secular Sunday service to measure levels of social wellbeing before and after their respective services.
How do they measure this?
Pre and post questionnaires began with participants being asked 5 questions on a 7 point Likert scale.
How connected do you feel with those around you?
How emotionally close do you feel with those around you?
How much do you trust those around you?
How much do you like those around you?
Do you feel you have a lot in common with those around you?
…And one self identity pictorial scale question where participants were asked to select which of the below images they most identified with regarding their connection to the group.
They also did a pre and post measure of general well being on a Positive and Negative Affect Schedule.
Overall, the study showed a moderate-to-high increase in social bonding from the secular practice.
Church was slightly higher but the difference in results would be considered nominal by most standards.
They also found in collecting participant background information that the length of how long an attendee had been attending services in the ritual setting and their feelings of being a part of something bigger than themselves were positively correlated. These results were also the same for both the church and secular study.
This study was a first of its kind analysis in comparing secular and religious rituals to weigh the wellness benefits of each. If the rituals that you’re taking part in aren’t particularly religious, no sweat. All you’ve gotta do to reap the above wellness benefits are find opportunities to gather with good people and do something gratifying.
Next week, I’m going to share a takeaway for each of 26 different books.
Have fun today.