Like all college students, I lead a busy life. We have papers to write, books to read and tests to study for. On top of all of the academic studies, most of us work. Most days feel like simply jumping from one task to the other, from when I wake up to when I go to bed, only to repeat the cycle the next day. Seeing your hard work pay off in the form of paychecks and high grades can be rewarding, but it is also incredibly stressful.
However, through all of the hustle and bustle, there are always a few things that keep me sane. These things, however small, provide a sense of normalcy and stability in a world that largely makes one feel like they are not in control.
These things are called routines, or rituals. For me, these rituals are a chance to let the world fade away. A great example is my after-work ritual.
I work far enough away from campus that I have to take a bus to get there. After my shift gets over, I will walk over to a bench close to the bus stop, buy a Mellow Yellow with my tips and eat my dinner while watching Netflix. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but it gives me a chance to let my stress wash away. While tuned into whatever show I am currently bingeing, I let all of my worries go to the back of my mind. I can do this because the action is so familiar that I am easily able to tune the world out.
And, don’t fear, I came with science to back this up. A study by the Harvard Business Review showed that consuming or using a product ritualistically can make it not only have more value to you but also make it taste better (which explains why Mellow Yellow has quickly skyrocketed to my number one favorite pop). Rituals even work for people who don’t believe they will.
As studies show, humans perform rituals in times when they feel out of control. Before going into a very important job interview where you are placing a lot of control into the hands of a stranger, many people do small things to help them calm their nerves.
As a more extreme example, some Christians in the middle ages would whip themselves in the back with a whip that had multiple parts and small metal balls on the end. Doing this was taking control of the most uncertain thing in a human's life — the future. By whipping themselves, they were showing God their piety so as to secure a good after-life. In the same vein (though hardly similar), by spending fifty cents on Mellow Yellow almost every night, I am taking control of a small part of my money.
Rituals are an important part of staying sane in a world where life simply seems out of control. Although these routines usually do not have any real effect on our situation, they can reassure us that everything will be all right and give us a chance to slow down and enjoy life.