What Are Rituals & How Do They Work?

Ritual Practices

Rituals are a set of actions designed to be special — to highlight, differentiate, and privilege what is being done. Making certain acts feel formal, using symbols, evoking emotion, using repetition — these all are potential ways to mark that specialness. None of them are strictly necessary. Yet, just by declaring that certain acts are special, we make them meaningful. They draw our attention, imagination, and sometimes hopes, in a way that mere habits don’t. As such, they change the way that otherwise mundane actions speak to our minds.

Bringing About Change

At heart, almost all rituals seek to bring about change. By altering how our minds encode and process information, the ways we move our bodies in space and in relation to others, and the values and expectations we place on ourselves and those around us, rituals regulate our beliefs, our behaviors, and our bonds with others. In so doing, rituals help us to experience joy, manage pain, persevere toward difficult goals, and bounce back from painful losses.


How God Works: The Science Behind the Benefits of Religion
David DeSteno

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