Researchers Say Rituals Can Ease Grief And Even Make Chocolate Bars Taste Better

By: Justin Nobel | Date: Wed, June 5th, 2013

A Harvard Business School study recently found that performing rituals can ease grief and make food taste better.

What’s the difference between a ritual and OCD?

Before making coffee I do the dishes. I can’t start boiling water and grinding beans until the sink is empty. Something about the jumble hurts my head, and it’s also nice to scald my fingers with hot water before scalding my throat with hot coffee. But am I doing this to ease my compulsion, or because it’s part of my morning coffee ritual? And does it make the coffee better?

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Earlier this week an article in the Harvard Business School publication Working Knowledge reported that researchers at the school have found rituals aid in relieving grief and also enhance consumptive acts. For example, performing a certain ritual after experiencing a loss can ease your pain, and performing a ritual before eating a chocolate bar or even a carrot can make it taste better.

How did these researchers test grief? In one experiment individuals who had experienced the death of a loved one or the death of a relationship were asked to include a written description of a ritual they performed after suffering the lost, others were not asked to include a written description of the ritual.

Says writer (and cousin) Carmen Nobel:

After the writing exercise, all the participants completed a questionnaire, using a numbered scale to recall how much they felt out of control after the loss, as well as the extent to which they still grieved the person. Those who had described a personal ritual also reported feeling both more in control and less aggrieved after the writing exercise, indicating the power of merely reflecting on ritualistic behavior.

Other Great Reads: How to deal with grief after a loss

Another experiment involved the grief of not getting money. Writes Carmen:

The researchers held a series of sessions in which 9 to 15 college-aged participants learned that one of them, picked at random, would receive $200—a significant windfall for the average student. In each session, the winner took the money and left the room. And just like that, the rest of the participants were left with a sudden sense of loss.

The researchers then split the newly disappointed participants into two groups: The “ritual” condition group performed a series of ritualistic tasks including drawing a picture about their current state of mind, sprinkling salt on the drawing, tearing up the drawing, and silently counting to 10. The “non-ritual” condition participants only drew a picture. After the experiment, the ritual group reported feeling more in control and less bummed out about the $200 than the non-ritual group

Other experiments involved simulating rituals associated with eating certain foods, like chocolate and carrots.

Okay, so rituals help make my coffee taste better, but is my dish washing an OCD or a ritual? For that we go to the Good Therapy blog:

Rituals are made up of actions that represent ideas, thoughts, myths, or beliefs about a particular thing. Rituals give purpose to action and always serve to connect us to something else, generally something greater than our own solitary selves. We may engage in ritual as we seek peace, clarity of mind, or to become more grounded. We may seek connectedness to family, a particular person, our culture, society, traditions, ancestors, or even to our own selves…Perhaps the most significant thing that rituals provide is a certain order to an existence that otherwise might be full of confusion and chaos.

So compulsives of the world take note, if something is easing the jumble in your head it is a ritual. And thus we are not so much compulsive as ritualistic, which is good, it will make our food taste better and can even help ease our grief.

One thought on “Researchers Say Rituals Can Ease Grief And Even Make Chocolate Bars Taste Better”

  1. Funeral Home Guy Louisville Guy12

    In my opinion the rituals is a way to get back to normal living. It gets your mind on track that life goes on even if the pain of a loved one seems overwhelming.

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