Is it a ritual or a routine?

By David Joel Miller

Are you stuck in a routine? Maybe you need more rituals.


Photo courtesy of Flickr (disrupsean)

Families that have specific family rituals often are happy and more cohesive. Nowadays most families have abandoned rituals and are stuck in stagnant routines.

What’s the difference between a ritual and a routine?

A routine is defined as (From Encarta) repetitive, a usual pattern of activity, even part of a computer program.

A ritual is something else. It involves following a set pattern, ceremonies and may include set forms of communication. Let’s look at some differences and why they may be affecting you and your family.

Rituals mark transitions in time and space.

Think of this as the difference between the last day of school each year and a graduation ceremony when you complete your education.

Routine – You come home from work, your kids come home from school. People get hungry so they go in the kitchen and eat. Maybe what mom or dad made, maybe something else. Food in the after-the-work hours is every man or woman for themselves.

The result is often a kitchen that is a mess, dirty dishes scattered throughout the house and people coming and going as they please. Other results include a family that doesn’t feel like a family. No one belongs and they are each doing their own thing. There is also probably a lot of fighting over who does what and why the kitchen and the rest of the house is such a mess.

For some families, dinner is a ritual rather than a routine.


Dinner is served with everyone seated around a common table. No one starts till everyone gets there. (Oh the social pressure if you are the last in and keeping the rest of YOUR FAMILY from eating.)

The meal may start with a prayer or other opening words. There is likely to be a custom of people talking to each other, asking about each other’s day and sharing what is going on in their life.

The result of transforming evening eating into a family dinner results in some positive benefits.

Families that regularly eat together, 4 or more nights per week, their kids get better grades. People are more likely to feel like they are all connected and belong as opposed to those people who feel more like guests in their own home.

Rituals include some symbolic elements. By doing this and saying that we are affirming we are part of something, belong to something and that what we are doing has a greater significance than just getting through life.

Dinner, the meal, becomes dinner, the time we all spend together and affirm we are a family.

Making meaning in your life.

If your life seems routine and boring, consider the meaning behind the things you do. Leave out the meanings and the rest of life is just going through the motions.

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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings, and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books


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