My wife and I have this little saying: “There’s always a bench.” When we find ourselves in a new place, or in the middle of a particularly impactful moment, we like to point out to one another when we spot a well-placed bench. It kindles a small spark of joy, a moment of warmth for us both. Works every time.
A bench on its own is not a particularly exciting or meaningful thing. But context is everything. For my wife and me, this small habit of acknowledging special benches is a cherished ritual.
In our history as a couple, benches have frequently played a part in important moments. I first asked her out on a park bench after a long night of sitting and chatting. Years later I asked her to marry me while we sat on that same bench. Before, in between, and since, there have been countless moments where the universe offered us a bench at just the right moment to have an exciting conversation, work through something tough, or pause to soak in the beauty of the world around us.
We’ve shared moments on benches at parks and shopping centers, zoos and city streets, backyards and waterfalls, Disneyland and train stations. And Disneyland train stations.
Benches are so common as to be almost invisible to most people (until you need one, that is). But for the two of us, each new bench is an opportunity for joy and connection. This is the difference that a small, cherished ritual can make.
The Power of Rituals
Rituals, the little traditions that people create, are an important part of our bonds with others. Our own rituals with ourselves are just as valuable, too.
It doesn’t matter too much what exactly your rituals are. What matters is what they mean to you. This meaning is built up over time, through repeated experience and connection.
There are too many great examples of rituals to count, but to name just a few:
- Inside jokes
- Habits like a weekly coffee date
- A special greeting/handshake, or wishing a loved one“good night” in some specific way
- A standard “reaction” to something (acknowledging benches, spotting yellow cars, etc)
- Routines like a Friday night wind-down or family game night
As I love to point out, most things we experience are neither inherently good nor bad. It’s usually up to us to choose a positive experience. A cherished ritual can bring powerful, positive emotion into an otherwise neutral, invisible, or even negative moment.
But rituals only work if they mean something to you. Traditions without personal significance are just the past telling you to do stuff. Allow your rituals to develop naturally, and cherish them as they grow and strengthen over time.
Identifying Your Rituals
Everyone has rituals, whether we notice them or not. They are essential to romantic relationships, as well as familial ones, friendships, and our relationships with ourselves.
Keep an eye out for your own rituals so you can recognize and cherish them more. Any of these phrases may be a sign you’re talking about one of your rituals:
- “Can’t wait for ___ night this week!”
- “It just makes me happy, I don’t really know why.”
- “Haha omg, we are SO weird!”
- “It’s [day/date/time], you know what that means…”
Anything that injects recurring beauty into your everyday, or that you look forward to over and over, or that just brings you warmth to think about, is a good sign you’re onto one of your rituals. Identify these, love them, and protect them.
Rituals aren’t easy to build from scratch, since they’re heavily built on experience and derived significance. It’s possible to start a ritual on purpose, but more important is that you give them room to develop. Notice new rituals as they grow, lean into them, and allow new ones to replace the old sometimes. Cherish your rituals always, and they will be an unending source of peace, happiness, and excitement.