Scientist and writer Dr. Mario Martinez has concerned his career with the ’causes of health’ in the lives of those who enjoy long lives. For his latest book, The MindBody Self: How Longevity Is Culturally Learned and the Causes of Health Are Inherited, he interviewed a whole load of centenarians in an effort to uncover what causes health in people living beyond 100 years old.
What is the secret sauce? How do they do it?
Well one of the subjects swore by a shot of rum each night. Another would close the day out with a cigar.
Drinking and smoking then? That’s the answer! Great…
OK, maybe not.
Through his years of research Martinez has discovered that those who enjoy longevity have something in common. It’s not the rum that is important, it’s what the rum represents.
Longevity and wellbeing are heavily influenced by our relationship to ritualising (and therefore ascribing meaning) to our every day activities. Rather than jumping to the result and building a routine, these centenarians enjoy rituals that nourish an experience in the present moment.
Behaviours that are chosen, anticipated, enjoyed, and savoured. Things that bring a focal point of meaning to their life.
Significantly these rituals are not underpinned by an excessive or addictive relationship to rum or a smoke. One shot, one cigar, one cup of coffee is enough.
Routine and Ritual
Martinez explains the difference between two words we may use interchangeable at times:
- A routine is a behaviour or event which you must do with regularity; it is what you do to maintain the status quo.
- A ritual is a behaviour or even that gives inclusive meaning to the individual, family, or culture.
If you take a shower to be clean it is a routine. But if your shower has ceremonial meaning then it is a ritual.
Essentially it boils down to this: routine has functional value, ritual has symbolic meaning.
The Thing is Not Really The Thing
As society we have a tendency to look at the end before we understand the process. We want solutions, and are drive by that desire to look at things from the wrong angle. For example, a desire to know the secret to someone’s success (perhaps in business, health, relationships etc) from the perspective of routine/what they DO.
We want life hacks, quick fixes and the ‘secrets of success’ in our modern fast paced world. But by this logic we may reach a conclusion that the secret to longevity is drinking rum and smoking cigars. The answer? Drink lots of rum and smoke like a chimney. Problem solved.
But the behaviour itself is actually irrelevant. The thing is not really the thing. It’s how we relate to it that matters. The drop of rum at the end of the day brings the curtains down on it in a ceremonial manner. It is a bridge between what has been and what is coming next.
Ritual is ascribing meaning to an otherwise fairly meaningless or routine activity. It may even be superfluous or unnecessary on some level. But it anchors us to the world and to the present moment.
Take the ritual of making the bed in the morning for example. It doesn’t NEED to be done. It doesn’t have a real practical purpose, in fact it’s easier to get back into bed if it’s not all tucked in with cushions on the top of it.
But it’s a ritual because it symbolises something important – the transition from night to day. And when it’s done with that in mind it can be a really meaningful action in many ways.
Creating a Ritual
Rituals are activities which acheive a certain, predictable and consistent feeling. The start of the day is the perfect place to create a ritual because it levels your mind and establishes a connection to the present moment before the busyness and activity of the day ahead.
For example, a morning coffee, writing, quiet time, showering, dressing/getting ready etc can all have ritualistic meaning. When things are done with a ceremonial mindset they prepare you, they ground you, and provide structure to rely on each day.
Other areas like exercise, time with the kids and partners, work, and creativity can all benefit from rituals. When a run becomes more than a run. When commuting to work means more than simply something to just get done.
Then we find meaning that is within our control, rather than stuff that is happening to us, or habits that we just get done so we can move onto the next thing.
Meaning and Intention
Slow down and be deliberately inefficient. By creating meaningful rituals both individually and collectively, we become happier and more effective. If you want inspiration then start with ‘Hygge Rituals’ for some warm, life-affirming habits that will appeal to many introverts and highly sensitive people.
Even watching TV or hopping on social media, can be nurtured as positive rituals which add to our longevity and wellbeing. Engage with these activities with intention, anticipation, enjoyment. Savour them. And remember that rituals are not tempted by excessive or addictive consumption.
The days gone by ritual of sitting down to watch the latest episode of your favourite TV show may have been replaced with the ability to binge watch an entire series. But that is only a perception. It is a choice.
We always have a choice, and we always have control about how we are going to relate to the activities, habits and routines that underpin our lives.
Over to You:
Which, if any, of your every-day routines have you ritualised? I’d love to hear what you think. Please do drop your response in the comments below.